updated 6/7/2011 4:46:20 PM ET 2011-06-07T20:46:20

Britain's Conservative-led government outlined a revised strategy Tuesday to tackle homegrown terrorism, saying that tens of millions of dollars spent on anti-extremism projects have failed to steer young Muslims away from violence.

Home Secretary Theresa May pledged the government will spend more time on actively identifying extremist threats — naming prisons, universities and the health care system as possible areas of focus — to target individuals and areas most at risk of radicalization.

"The last government strategy was flawed and it is necessary to make changes," May told lawmakers.

The new approach comes after a lengthy review of Britain's anti-extremism policy, dubbed Prevent, which was launched following the July 7, 2005, terrorist attacks on London's transport networks.

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Prevent aimed to provide alternatives to militant Islamism by supporting mainstream groups through lecture tours by moderate clerics and by funding for outreach work by reformed extremists, but drew criticism from all sides — some Muslims said it involved spying on young people, while taxpayer groups questioned the merit of funding adventure holidays, rap lessons or team-building exercises.

May told lawmakers that the costly and controversial initiatives implemented by the previous Labour government did not produce security benefits for Britain — and could even have helped fund groups that promote hardline beliefs.

"In trying to reach out to those at risk of radicalization, funding sometimes even reached the very extremist organizations that Prevent should have been confronting," she said while outlining the findings of the review. "We will not make the same mistakes."

Details bedeviling
Rights groups welcomed her pledge to shake up how Britain fights extremism and avoid a repeat failure, but questioned how the new approach outlined in the review would be put into practice.

While the "major failings" of the previous government's Prevent strategy were clearly identified, the review "is often too light on specifics," said The Henry Jackson Society, a British think tank which studies extremism.

May said the practice of funding groups advocating extremist ideologies "on the grounds that they were better able to deal with challenges posed by radicalization" would no longer be acceptable.

"Neither Prevent funding nor support will be given to organizations that hold extremist views or support terrorist-related activity of any kind, in this country or overseas," she said.

British universities — long a focal point in the battle against extremism since suspects in several high-profile terrorism cases were reportedly radicalized while studying on British soil — will also draw greater scrutiny.

May, who a day earlier accused universities of "complacency" in tackling radicalization and Islamic extremism on campuses, said the government would work "with sectors and institutions where there are risks of radicalization."

Campuses under watch
The review stressed that universities will be closely watched and that the government will look to prevent computers in schools, libraries and colleges from accessing unlawful material on the Internet.

It identified 40 English universities with "particular risk of radicalization or recruitment on campus" and said education professionals could identify and offer support to people who may be drawn into extremism and terrorism.

The report also suggested doctors could be trained to identify individuals vulnerable to radicalization and said more must be done to reach the prison population from which convicted terrorists have until now often been released without their beliefs being challenged.

Asking doctors to help spot possible extremists could be seen as an attempt to fend off a similar infiltration of the health care system as that which occurred in 2007 when a British-Iraqi doctor was sentenced to life in prison for attempting to crash a burning Jeep through entrance doors to Glasgow airport.

Noting the power of the Internet in spreading radical messages, the government will consider a list of blocked websites featuring illegal or unlawful material. Under the plan, computers in schools, libraries and colleges will also be barred from accessing unlawful material on the Internet — though May did not get into the means for doing so.

Counterterrorism experts welcomed the new plan as a step in the right direction, but said it was too early to determine its success.

Maajid Nawaz, executive director of counterterrorism think-tank Quilliam, said it was disappointing that the new strategy did not outline any practical measures to prevent the same mistakes — wasted spending, funding extremists — from happening again.

"The jury is out," he said. "The strategy in itself is just a piece of paper. The challenge now is to put it into practice."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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