Click here to read our latest report: Tackling Online Terrorist Content Together

The Online Footprint of the Dover Migrant Centre Terrorist 

The Online Footprint of the Dover Migrant Centre Terrorist 
13th December 2022 Rajan Basra
In Insights

Introduction

On 30th October 2022, a man threw petrol bombs at a migrant centre at Western Jet Foil in Dover, England. The attack caused two minor injuries. One eyewitness stated the man was “running around with his arms in the air and shouting”. Another described him as “laughing”. As he drove away, he reportedly told nearby coach drivers who were waiting to transport migrants: “Do you know what you’re doing? Your children should be raped and killed!”. Moments later, police found his body in the same car at a nearby petrol station. Leak attached one end of a cord to a metal pole and tied the other end around his neck; an inquest stated he died of asphyxiation. 

The firebomber was Andrew Leak, a 66-year-old from Buckinghamshire. He is believed to have acted alone and without affiliation with any extremist group. Counterterrorism police initially said the attack was “likely to be driven by some form of hate-filled grievance, though this may not necessarily meet the threshold of terrorism”. An update on November 5th stated that Leak’s digital media devices suggest an “extreme right-wing motivation”. The Senior National Coordinator for Counter Terrorism Policing said: “[W]hilst there are strong indications that mental health was likely a factor, I am satisfied that the suspect’s actions were primarily driven by an extremist ideology. This meets the threshold for a terrorist incident”. 

Following the attack, the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) archived part of Andrew Leak’s online digital footprint, comprised of his YouTube account (with 12 videos uploaded, six playlists created, and 114 subscriptions), Facebook profile (for 2021 and 2022), Pinterest profile, and three Twitter accounts (with posts in 2014, 2015, and 2022). The archive, however, is incomplete. It does not contain his Facebook posts before 2021 (as his profile was suspended during the archiving process) or the majority of tweets from his most recent Twitter account. It is also possible that accounts on other platforms, such as Telegram, exist but have not been identified, or other Twitter accounts were suspended and thus remain unknown. 

This GNET Insight uses that archive to chronicle Andrew Leak’s background and motivations. 

Early Accounts and a History of Far-Right Sympathies 

Leak’s digital footprint suggests he held far-right sympathies since at least 2014. His first known Twitter account, @andyleak63, was created in December of that year. Leak’s first tweet was: “I love the world”. That was followed by “is (sic) time to intern all radical Muslims” and tweets about grooming gangs and Islamic extremists in the UK. Of the 59 accounts he was following, all but one were mainstream. The exception was the far-right British National Party (BNP) Twitter account. 

His next appearance on Twitter was in November 2015, using the account @andyleak22. Following ISIS’ attacks in Paris on November 13th, which killed 130 people and received worldwide media coverage, he tweeted a video of himself speaking to the camera: 

“We’re an island and we’ve been attacked before. It’s time to close the borders, sink all these boats. Let’s sort out the strong from the weak. We need to… go in, and sort it out mate. We need to wipe ISIS off the face of the earth mate. It’s a bad, evil, nasty thing. We’ve got to live in peace mate, and it’s not fair on our children. ISIS needs to be wiped off the face of the earth. God bless France and all the children—” 

This video appears to have partly been a reaction to reports that one of the ISIS attackers was “an asylum seeker who registered on a Greek island in October”. Leak followed this with a link to a Change.org petition (of which he was not the author), calling for the closure of British borders to refugees. Leak only posted seven tweets with the @andyleak22 account. Not all were related to the Paris attacks or the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis; even those had minimal engagement and views. He would seemingly not reappear on Twitter until 2022.  

Revelations about his Upbringing 

In the meantime, he occasionally uploaded videos on YouTube, revealing details about his life. The first videos were innocuous: of him swigging a bottle of alcohol in the street while singing a Christmas carol (uploaded November 2016), making an unintelligible rant (August 2017), and complaining about internet speed (August 2017). However, in a video from August 2018, ostensibly about knife crime, he said: 

“I’m 63 years old, I’ve been in prison, I know about violence, I know about crime, and I know about being disadvantaged and unprivileged, yeah. And abused, and neglected, I know all that, I’ve been there most of my life…”. 

He made similar references on Twitter in 2022 to a difficult upbringing. Leak wrote that he and his nine siblings were raised by “a single mother”, who “was beaten by drunken men most of her life” (Twitter, 20th September 2022). In a tweet supportive of the 2022 Mahsa Amini protests in Iran, he stated that his mother “was a victim of violence from men” (Twitter, 19th September 2022). It is unknown if Leak took any steps—or received any support—related to this childhood trauma, nor the exact effect this had on him. 

The Emergence of a Conspiratorial Mindset 

There was a notable escalation in his rhetoric in a video from 13th March 2019, following a vote in Parliament to reject a “no-deal” Brexit: 

“Facebook has committed treason on the British people. They have blocked Facebook… and Instagram. Because of the vote that was taken tonight. It is absolutely disgraceful. Treason. Treason. You have committed treason upon the British public, by blocking us. We are British citizens and we can call our politicians wa**ers, c**ts, motherfu**ers, slags, whores, prostitutes. Cromwell, come back. This country is fu**ed. Facebook is finished in the UK, mark my fu**ing words. 9,999 behind me, will follow me. How dare you interfere with British politics. The reason Facebook is down, and Instagram, is because of the vote that was taken today, at 7 o’clock. In our Parliament, in our Parliament. Facebook is an American company! Treason. You will be brought to the Tower [of London] my friend”. 

Here Leak shows signs of conspiratorial thinking. Facebook and Instagram were down on March 13th, which Facebook said was due to a “server configuration change”. For Leak, however, there was a more sinister explanation: Facebook was stifling dissent in the wake of the vote in Parliament. The implausibility of that scenario—of Facebook initiating a global 41-hour outage to silence criticism from no-deal Brexiteers—suggests Leak lacked critical thinking skills. 

He also believed in other conspiracy theories. While we do not have coverage of his reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, by 2021 he was posting anti-Covid vaccination conspiracy theories on Facebook. For Leak, the pandemic was “fake” (Facebook post, 19th January 2022). Similarly, he posted a conspiracy theory that the US “funded over 30 biolabs in Ukraine” (Facebook post, 20th March 2022), implying this was the reason behind the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Financial Difficulties, the Death of his Son, and Health Problems 

Leak’s online posts give insight into recent difficulties. In a recent Facebook post, he complained about his state benefits being cut while “thousands of people getting benefits cannot speak English” (1st August 2022). According to neighbours, he had only £36 in his bank account. For Leak, his personal misfortune resonated with his broader political grievances; in his mind, migrants in the UK were directly linked with his precarious financial position.  

He was also dealing with grief. In April 2022, he posted three short YouTube videos in quick succession. The first was titled “I am broken”: 

“I buried my 41-year-old son yesterday. And I’m devastated. No father ever thinks he’ll bury his son”. 

It is unclear how his son died; one of his tweets indicates it may have been due to cardiac arrest. In the second video, Leak shared how that personal tragedy coincided with illness: 

“I’m dying, but no-one will believe me. I’ve been dying for the last two years mate. I’m fu**ed. I just, I lost it 6 months ago”. 

He also tweeted that he had been “going through stage 3 cancer” and was “in-and-out of hospital” (1st October 2022). His cancer status at the time of the attack is unknown, though one neighbour said Leak had his penis removed as a consequence. Yet immediately after these two personal revelations, he uploaded another video which had an absurd change of subject: 

“If you want to be in on the next biggest dating site, contact me. One hundred pounds will get you a long way. Not got long left, so quick”. 

While reports have stated Leak suffered from mental health issues, it remains to be seen what specific diagnosis (if any) he had. It also remains to be confirmed whether Leak was misusing drugs or alcohol. 

An Escalation in Rhetoric 

In his final few months of 2022, Leak was more prolific online. His ultimate Twitter account, @AndyLeak3, was created in May 2022 and had over 4,200 tweets. Only a small fraction of those was archived—Twitter suspended it following the attack—which does not allow for a systematic analysis. However, of those archived posts, there is a variety of xenophobic, anti-migrant, and anti-Muslim content. Less common were homophobic, anti-trans, and anti-Semitic content. He was also following various far-right influencers and supported so-called “migrant hunters”.  

His rhetoric seemingly escalated to framing his grievances as an existential struggle. For Leak, the stakes could not have been higher: “We are in a fight for our lives, our children’s lives and grandchildren’s lives”, with encouragement to “stand up or be walked all over” (Twitter, 5th July 2022). Seemingly with that in mind, he also presented himself as a “Defender of free speech” and “Protect[or] of women and children” in his Twitter bio, listing his location as “In the trenches waiting”. 

The Desire for Action 

Recently, there were sporadic calls for action and vague threats, suggesting Leak wanted to do something to address his grievances. For instance, in reply to a GB News video about the Rwanda asylum plan, he tweeted: “Next bank holiday get to London let’s bring this to an end no more raping of our women and children. It’s the only way it’s going to end” (Twitter, 13th June 2022). Replying to a tweet that said refugees “are laughing at us”, Leak said: “Not for much longer. There is more than one way to skin a cat” (Twitter, 11th October 2022). In another post—replying to a tweet about Dutch farmers protesting—he spoke of impending danger: “It’s coming get ready if you’re not ready you will not survive what is coming you have been warned stand your gsound (sic)” (Twitter, 22nd October 2022). Interpreting these posts is not straightforward. While they show an escalation, they do not necessarily endorse violence, and such comments are relatively common on social media. Their significance may only be apparent in hindsight. 

Culminating in a Firebombing 

The day before the attack, he drove approximately 110 miles from his home in Wooburn Green, Buckinghamshire, to Dover. He was likely conducting hostile reconnaissance; security spotted him driving past the migrant centre multiple times. The following day, he was much more violent and direct in his messaging online, posting on Twitter immediately before the attack

“Your children will feel the pain we will obliterate them Muslim children are now our target And there disgusting women will be targeted mothers and sisters Is burn alive (sic)”. 

Andrew Leak’s case is complex. His online posts display a range of vulnerabilities: from childhood trauma and recent bereavement to health troubles and financial difficulties, as well as a lack of critical thinking. Compounding this was his media consumption, which consisted of right-wing news and influencers, reinforcing his perception of migrants as a danger. This all culminated in Leak apparently believing that migrants represented an existential threat, and that he was a soldier in that fight.  

Dr. Rajan Basra is a Senior Research Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) and a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London.