Event Summary: ‘Spotting the signs: Identifying vulnerability to radicalisation among students’


On Thursday April 27th, The Henry Jackson Society welcomed Nicola Benyahia, professional counsellor at Families for Life, a support service for those affected by radicalisation of their families and loved ones, and Sean Arbuthnot, the co-founder of Tadris Consultants and specialises in Prevent Duty and safeguarding training. Together with Emma Webb, research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, the panellists launched a highly interesting discussion on the radicalisation process among British youth and the reasons for it, based on Miss Webb’s own research on the topic.

The two invited speakers had both been affected in different ways by extremist radicalisation. While Mr Arbuthnot had spent several years as a Prevent officer experiencing first-hand radicalised youth, Nicola Benyahia’s son had become radicalized and joined the Islamic State where he was sadly killed two years ago.

During the discussion, Miss Webb presented the findings of her research, which presented a thorough list of reasons behind radicalisation. This case study focused on 29 individuals who were radicalised, and how socialisation played a vital role in this gloomy process which saw them travel to Iraq & Syria. Today, recruitment is a key aspect of radicalisation and the most important danger in regards to individuals’ transformation into extremists. The research found that 17/29 of the cases in question had been prone to online radicalisation. However, as was also presented, many of the individuals were turned not simply due to so called “bedroom radicalisation”, but due to face-to-face socialisation with recruiters. Of the 29, 18 of the individuals were radicalised because they were part of – through friendship – groups connected to extremism. 11 had a family member involved with extremism; 16 had been in contact with radical clerics, returned ISIS fighters, or extremists. Radicalisation processes based on socialisation are also connected geographically, or through institutions, educational or religious. The research found that 6/29 of the individuals in question were pupils in schools accused of having a problem with extremism. 6 others had attended extremist mosques. In regards to the geographic element, it was found that members of networks from cities across England and Wales were in contact with each other before, during and after travel to ISIS-controlled territories. All this comes to show that, as previously mentioned, it is the socialising process by recruiters that is at the forefront of the radicalisation process.

Mr Arbuthnot, who profoundly agrees with the findings of the report, focused his statement on warning signs, and de-radicalization. “No one is born a terrorist” he said, “they are radicalised” he continued. For him, preventative measures were vital. He believed that radicalisation today was often the cause of real world relationships between recruit and recruiter. Mr Arbuthnot, however, also believed that as socialisation was key to radicalisation, it was also the strongest mechanism for de-radicalisation. Tailoring a response to specific individual cases was a key step in this process, and he thus emphasised the uniqueness of radicalisation cases he had come across. The ex-Prevent officer concluded by stressing the importance of Prevent in such a setting, and the need to continue to promote such work.

The last speaker was Ms Benyahia, who, through the radicalisation and death of her son, had become deeply involved in work on radicalisation across Europe. For her, it was all about trying to understand her son’s choice, and why he chose to leave for Syria. She found that the focus on radicalisation was crucial, and that the complex nature and the roots to radicalisation was essential in order to understand the what, why and how of such a process. As the report presented, she agreed with the fact that bedroom radicalisation only was one component, and that the human element was a decisive part of radicalisation. As a viable example, she noted that her son could not have planned and executed such a complex journey without help. Leaving from Birmingham to Syria is not simple. Further, before entering ISIS territory, which is extremely difficult, he must have been vetted and guided by someone close to the organisation. Ms Benyahia further emphasised the importance attached to weakness in the individuals they recruit. A weakness that can stem from various negatively shaping events, such as parents’ divorce, a death in the family, and so on, that can be manipulated by recruiters. First, she said, they gain your trust, and your friendship, then, they radicalise you. The panellist concluded by stressing the need for other families affected to come forth and tell their stories, which was the only way she found closure.

This event is proof that socialisation plays a key role, and is thus a key component of radicalisation of today’s youth and adolescents.


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