HJS Report Launch: “Spotting the Signs of Extremism”

TIME: 13:00 – 14:00, 27th April 2017

VENUE: The Henry Jackson Society, 21-24 Millbank, Westminster, London SW1P 4QP


Emma Webb – Author, Spotting The Signs

Nicola Benyahia – Founder, Families for Life

Sean Arbuthnot – Co-founder, Tadris Consultants

Timothy Stafford: Ladies and gentleman thank you very much for being with us at The Henry Jackson Society this afternoon. It is very good to see you all here. As you all may know we are a think tank specializing in a vast range of issues and when people usually ask me what a think tank does, I always try to explain that not only do we try to analyze problems but also propose recommendations and solutions. Now often that’s particularly with regard to public policy for decision makers at essential government level. Today we have what I think is a very interesting report in that it presents recommendations that are applicable rather across the ball not only to policy makers but also to local government officials and to communities and to families themselves. This report is about student fighters travelling to Iraq and Syria and trying to spot signs. Some people will often say that it is very difficult to do so and indeed it is but I think one of the things, if hopefully you will have the chance to read the report in due course there is a very good section of it for those interested on page 62 that says too much emphasis has been placed on radicalization being a primarily private process that takes place behind closed doors. I think that’s a fairly useful place when we start today because yes it is the case that people who travel particularly young people are often moved towards extremism and don’t let people know that they are moving in this direction but not to suggest that they are not having interactions with a large number of other people who might be able to intervene if they can spot the signs. Whether it is families, schools, friends, colleagues or officials. So that is the topics we will be discussing today. We have a very distinguished panel here, Emma Webb who is the author of the report and a research fellow at The Henry Jackson Society will start by talking through the research that she has done and presenting some of the conclusions and recommendations. We will also be hearing from Sean Arbuthnot who is from Tadris Consulting but was previously a government official responsible for delivering rent strategies in parts of the country and now in his consulting capacity provides training to groups who are trying to ensure that they have the right quotes to counter extremism and then lastly we are joined by Nicola Benyahia the Director of Families for Life who has set up an organization that helps families combat extremism and for her this is a very personal issue because her son he was very sadly killed on the Iraqi/Syrian border having made his way there. He was one of the people directly affected and she has written a very moving forward to this report and we are very thankful for her not only for taking part in that process but for being here today and sharing her very personal thoughts about this issue. We will start with Emma giving us her thoughts on the report.

Emma Webb: I would like begin with myself thanking Sean and Nicola for joining me and for Nicola kindly writing forward for this report. As we have seen in recent weeks in Westminster and in France the need to prevent people from becoming radicalized hasn’t waned. We have seen an increase in low tech attacks particularly vehicular attacks and these are far harder for the security services to disrupt then the older more complex networks. This makes it all the more important for us to stop people becoming radicalized in the first place. As we know, those who have combat experience abroad are disproportionately involved in the most serious Islamist related offenses in the UK and they continue to impose a recruitment risk once they have travelled to those back at home. For example, as we saw in the cases of this report of Aqsa Mahmood and Raphael Hostey continued to recruit people once they were in Syria and to give some context to the seriousness of the situation 850 individuals have believed to have travelled to join armed groups in Iraq and Syria. We believe that almost half of them have returned. According to Mark Rowley the Assistant Commissioner at the Metropolitan Police Services we have foiled 14 serious terror attacks since Lee Rigby’s murder in 2013 and the security services are following more than five live investigations at any one time. On top of this there is a real effect from terrorism on communities and families across the country and this is why it is so important for us to understand how to spot the signs of radicalization and vulnerability to radicalization in these individuals and for this reason we have created the report spotting the signs and profiles and analyzed the cases of 29 students from higher and further education and institutions who travelled and attempted to travel abroad to join armed groups in Syria and Iraq. The aim is to create a case based approach to look at how these signs were manifested in real cases. I will take you briefly through the findings. We found that largely and aligned with government advice that there is no single pathway into terrorism, there is no single socio economic background common across all of the profiles. However, there were certain features that were common throughout. So despite the small size of the sample we found that these cases fit into broader trends that we found in previous HJS research domestically and also in Europe. So, as Timothy mentioned, online radicalization is something that is often emphasized. Baroness Warsi for example in 2015 she said that individuals were radicalized in their bedrooms online rather than at mosques. She said that looking at the questions to do with institutions were looking for an easy answer and to quote she said it is becoming more and more apparent that people are not being radicalized in places of worship but that they are being radicalized in their bedrooms by being on the internet. Now 17 out of the 29 students that we looked at including all four of the female profiles had some sort of online extremist activity, however, we found that this was subsidiary to real world relationships and in the most part those individuals had relationships face to face or in the real world with extremists. There are a number of illustrations of this but the most memorable is Aqsa Mahmood, who was referred to at the time as being a bedroom radical but actually it later came out during the trial of Adeel Ulhaq that she had been in contact with him via her phone and her parents had been concerned about this and attempted to intervene but ultimately she had run away to meet him in person and expressed a wish to marry him and Adeel Ulhaq was convicted for helping another student from Cardiff, Aseel Muthana join his brother Nasser in Syria. So, we can see that it`s dangerous to over emphasize private aspect of radicalization and that this really is the easy answer because it is easier to research and easier to propose policies for but actually its far more difficult to deal with the social aspects of radicalization and the studies suggest that these signs were seen and that the radicalization process didn’t take place solely behind closed doors. So the real take away finding of this report was the prevalence of social relationships which we have seen in previous cases in Europe and also domestically. Eighteen of those we looked at had a friendship group or a friend who was connected to extremism. One example of this is Humza Ali, the well-known story of how Humza Ali was photographed paintballing with a group of other individuals one of whom was later convicted for providing funding to the Paris and Brussels attack accomplice Mohamed Abrini and a number of others who tried and attempted to travel to Syria. He was also friends with Brusthom Ziamani who you may know was convicted for a beheading plot and was connected to Al-Muhajiroun. But Humza Ali like many others that we looked at also had family members involved in extremism. His father had been involved in the Paviz Khan Cell and convicted in 2009 for supplying equipment to the Taliban and Al-Qaida. So 11 out of those we looked at had a family member connected to extremism. There was the Shalaku family, the Deghayes family and the Halani family, who had two twin sisters, a cousin and a brother who were involved in extremism. Sixteen had contact with an extremist clerical fighter, which suggests was a source of their radicalization. As I mentioned the Shalaku brothers they were believed to have been recruited by Alex Kotey who the U.S. state department believed was responsible for recruiting a number ok UK citizens. These social relationships should be an immediate red flag to anybody who is aware of them. They can have a real pull effect on dragging somebody into radicalization and as Lloyd and Dean described it as the socialization into terrorism. One expert Mohamed Raffa has said that these relationships mean that the defection from the group can be both betrayal of cause and family and this extra hold factor can create a strength of bond that means that any intervention, the efficacy of that may be diminished while those relationships persist. The corollary of these social relationships is that as we saw in the European networks with Molenbeek that these networks are tied to specific areas so what we found with amongst these student’s networks had formed in Portsmouth, Manchester, Cardiff and Coventry and that these networks were connected with each other both before, during and after travelling. In fact, two of the students from different areas across the country from Coventry and Manchester actually married each other once they were in Islamic State. The question then is where does this socialization happen? So the Prime Ministers task force on tackling radicalization extremism in 2013 recognized that the vulnerability of institutions such as education and religious institutions and although sometimes direct accusations made against the institutions mentioned in this report on the large part these spaces seemed to have functioned as places where socialisation between extremists occurred but obviously you can’t stop people from meeting there so this is a tricky issue that needs to be discussed further. Now 6 out of 29 of those we had looked at had attended a school attended by other extremists or that had been accused of having a problem with extremism. One example was Holland Park School in Chelsea, which had a number of individuals who were involved in extremism and who went to fight for Islamic state in Jabhat al-Nusra and 9 out of 29 had a connection to a mosque or Imam suggested as a source of their radicalization or attended a mosque that was attended by other extremists. One example of this was Al-Manar mosque in Cardiff which was attended by Aseel and Nasser Muthana and also another Islamic estate fighter and their father said that they began acting strangely after they were attending this mosque which had hosted a number of extremist’s speakers, one of whom was band from the United Kingdom and a member of the community said that he believed that they had been groomed not to the stage to go but such that the recruiters were helped and that it was made easier for them to recruit them. So finally, the behavioral changes was something that really came out in this report. It was clear that the signs were noticed by individuals and that they often fell in line with government guidelines. Sometimes their behaviors were also indicative of what Lloyd and Dean the authors of the study behind the government’s guidelines called “Low Cognitive Integrative Complexity” which is sort of a binary reductionist thinking. So for example, 10 show sudden expression of extreme political views, such as expressing the desire for the establishment of the caliphate, calling other Muslims or non-Muslims infidels and in the case of Humza Ali whom I mentioned earlier, after his attempted to travel to Syria he contacted a Labour Councilor and told him to stay out of Muslim areas calling him a dirty swine and Satan. He was marked out as having this us and them attitude. And finally, 14 out of 29 showed behavior that was commonly associated with increasing religious observants. Now this is the most sensitive issue raised by the report. Religiosity is often seen as a protective factor and misidentifications may have occurred when signs of radicalization were mistaken for an increasing religiosity or seen as a protective factor; cases as an example of this are those of Aqsa Mahmood and Jaffar Deghayes. Jaffar Deghayes had turned away from crime to becoming more interested in Islam and Aqsa Mahmood’s mother thought that when she requested to wear the Niqab, although her mother refused to allow her to do this, she said that she was just pleased that she wasn’t interested in boys or partying. As I mentioned she did run away previously with a boy, so it’s understandable that she might be pleased about that. So finally to turn to the recommendations and I’ll run them through as quickly as possible as I imagine we are probably running short on time, we recommended the following; so to the home office and local authorities we recommended that “prevent training” be anchored in real cases to improve the reliability and confidence and communication between frontline staff. This is because we found that there were difficulties in information sharing. Often one individual would know of something that may be of concern and indicative but information sharing is necessary for the bigger picture to be pieced together so that the individual can be given the support that they need. And secondly, to government and local authorities to increase awareness of the support available to families that gives them the skills and knowledge to help them identify signs of radicalization and this is as I mentioned because there were issues of misidentification on missing the signs and there is a need to increase awareness of those organizations that provide assistance and advise to families, including technical support as in the case of Aqsa Mahmood’s mum who checked her phone but wasn’t aware of how to use social media and so may not have seen what would have allowed her to intervene. And finally because of the importance of the social element in that respect, there is a need to encourage an awareness of groups that foster that cognitive integrative complexity in the community more broadly. The final recommendation was to support and create awareness of case based approach relating to the study underlying the governments guidelines because it has been subject to misinformation by groups such as CAGE who are trying to undermine government guidelines and the report has found that there is a lot of overlap in terms of the evidence provided in this report with the study that underlines the guidelines and the guidelines themselves. So I think I will end there and I apologize for the speed talking, if that is what I was doing. I will now pass you over to Sean.

Sean Arbuthnot: Thank you. Good afternoon everybody. First of all, thank you very much for having me here today. I consider it something of a privilege to be invited down to share my thoughts on this report and what I want to do this afternoon is share my reflection on this report based on my personal experiences. My background mainly is in policing and I was a prevent officer for three years in the East Midlands and I see a lot of correlation between the work I did at the coalfacing and some of the things that are included in this report and I have to say straight of the bat, it’s an excellent piece of work. It is thoroughly well researched and I think it’s going to be a really valuable addition to the broader debate because you know one of the things that has always annoyed me about the debates around counter extremism and the various reports that we see from time to time is that so often they are heavily critical and offer plenty of problems and we are well used to that working in prevent to be fair, but what they aren’t so sharp on is solutions and alternatives and I am more than happy to receive constructive criticism and learn and evolve and improve. What I love about this report is the fact that it offers solutions that are actually going to be valuable to policy makers and to practitioners whether or not they are taking up will be another matter but very least it will get people talking about them and debating them and even on occasion when sometimes they can be seen as controversial perhaps I think a key part of the prevent usually rests on critical thinking and openness, honesty and debate and so from that point of view I absolutely welcome it. The first thing that struck me as I read this report and this is my fairly well-thumbed copy here, the edges of the people in the case studies just leapt out at me. You know, you are looking at 18, 16, 16, 18, 20 we are talking about kids here at the end of the day and this actually tallies with the local referrals that I received in the midlands because in 2014 the average age of the prevent referral that I dealt with was 18, now albeit this rules to like 23 by the time I left the police but we are talking about people that are very sort of complex and vulnerable time of their lives in and going beyond that when you look at the sort of character of the individuals concerned in these cases of this, you look at the pattern pictures that are told by families and teachers and friends, people that knew them. The same sort of things crops up again and again, sweet natured, helpful and respectful, worked hard at his studies, reserved and quiet, engaged, amiable, loving, gentle, kind, you know no one is born a terrorist here. All of these individuals have gone through some sort of process whether it is radicalization and it is so important for us to try and tackle these issues head on and try and prevent them because you know sometimes it can be difficult to have sympathy for the individuals concerned here who have gone off to a conflict zone and chosen to fight and potentially commit abhorrent atrocities. But they weren’t always so inclined and by protecting these individuals in the first instance then by extension we are also protecting communities, people in the war zones themselves and the families that are left behind I mean I can’t begin to comprehend the devastation that gets left behind when people have to deal with the issues of their loved ones going abroad to fight I mean, it doesn’t bear thinking about as far as I’m concerned so, so this work is really important. I want to talk about some of the key issues that the report reasons and one of the key things that has been mentioned already is the fact that when you are talking about the warning signs and the vulnerabilities of radicalization, sometimes the complexity of these have been over stated somewhat the over reliance on the fact that radicalization is necessarily a private thing happening in the bedroom and the warning signs can be hard to spot and well admittedly this is the case in many occasions. As far as my personal experiences are concerned in the referrals that I have dealt with I have to say more often than not the warning signs can be quite obvious and they manifest themselves physically through numerous warning signs that sometimes are easier with the benefit of hindsight to pick up but you know sometimes they do just hit you right in the face. It has been rightly pointed out that there is no single path way to extremism in my experience every single case I have dealt with has been unique with its own particular set of grievances and issues and very often they have been personal to the individuals involved but again coming back to the fact that sometimes these signs can be quite obvious you might be surprised that in a lot of the cases that I have dealt with the individuals concerned have been only too happy to talk about their experiences and their thoughts and beliefs and motivations I mean I think about a young lad who was so inspired by Anders Breivik that he aspired to replicate the Breivik attack in a town center in the midlands and was quite open about this, as I sat having coffee with him. Aside from that he was actually a really interesting amiable young man and we helped him work through those issues. I also think of another young fellow who was a recent convert to Islam who was genuinely convicted as to what his religious obligations were and he genuinely felt that it was his duty to travel to Syria and we had open discussion about that as well. The report also talks about the importance of real world relationships and that’s certainly something we have seen in my personal experience. I know of places where a father has been the most negative influence on a young person’s life and has virtually brain washed them to the point where they want to go off and commit acts of violence based on some kind of political ideology. I know of cousins who have exerted negative influences over family members but I think the flip side of that, which we can take some comfort in is the fact that real world relationships can also be key to ‘I don’t like the term de-radicalisation’ but to the support process that we can put in place for young referrals if you are aware of the channel process which is part of Prevent, its essentially a multiagency support network for our most vulnerable our most high risk referrals which puts in place all types of different support relying on partners from places like the NHS or from probation and schools. One of the key support mechanisms that we draw upon time and time again is the use of mentors and interventionist, people who have so much more knowledge and credibility as far as these complex issues are concerned and certainly I would ever have had as a police officer. People who can actively engage with vulnerable young people, sometimes former extremists themselves who have been vetted and approved by the home office, who have kind of walked in the shoes of the young referrals so to speak. Who can answer the difficult questions, who have been there done that and talk about issues in an open and honest environment and I always think back to one particular referral we had, a 15-year-old boy immersed in a far right ideology and the mentor that we put in place with him was actually a former neo-Nazi who now does youth work and the support that we put in place was so tailored to this young individual it tapped into his love of military history, his belief in conspiracy theories for instance he was Newton Holocaust denier for example and would happily spew forth about this at length to anybody who would listen and so one of the things we did with him we took him on a visit to the holocaust Memorial Centre in Nottinghamshire where not only did he go on the museum tour and see primary evidence of the scale and horror of the holocaust but they actually met a holocaust survivor. Someone who had been in a concentration camp from the age of three and had lost his entire family and that as much as anything else was the catalyst that flipped this youngsters’ ideology completely on its head and he was safely exited from the channel process shortly afterwards. So real world engagement and a rapport with people is absolutely vital when it comes to helping people come out the other side of extremism never mind getting them into it in the first place. Before I finish I want to touch briefly on the key recommendations that this report has raised and first of I want to talk briefly about the whole issue of training because obviously that’s an area that I have a certain vested interest in I guess but I love the fact that the report talks about the importance of using case studies and I only wish that we could share more with people. You certainly hear enough negative ones about Prevent and often times it’s difficult to share a real world case study because we need the consent and permission of the people who have been involved and certainly if I had a vulnerable point in my life had been through the channel process I’m not sure I would want to broadcast that to the world. But when they are consented to, they can be extremely powerful and can add a great deal of relevance and significance and learning to people receiving the training. There are issues with Prevent training it has to be said you know, the home office advocates RAP training and E-learning and although they have been much criticized in the past to be honest with you I think they are actually very good. If you take them for what they are which is essentially a basic introduction to this world of complex issues, at the end of the day no one can walk out of a two-hour training session and be an expert in this stuff you know. So as an introduction RAP and E-learning are absolutely very very good. But I think to get beyond that to develop a real understanding, Prevent needs to be delivered by credible people, it has to use real life case studies and it has to be relevant and bespoke to the individuals concern because the Prevent usually hits so many people from so many walks of life, from a Chief Executive and a local authority to a primary or a nursery school teacher. But you can’t deliver the same training and put to those two individuals, do you know what I mean. The case studies have to be relevant, it needs to be pitched at the right level one may focus more on strategies and legal duties, another may focus more on warning signs for example. So it’s really important that we put a lot of effort and focus into how we can improve our training across the board. The rule of communities again this report states is also key and I think it’s important for Prevent to try and gain the trust of more communities because with the best will in the world, we do have a fairly bad reputation in some circles. I would say that’s largely unfair and largely down to a lot of myths and misconceptions that exist about Prevent. But in order to improve that, I wouldn’t say that Prevent needs a re-brand as such, as is often being suggested it just needs to be more open and transparent I think. Not in terms of sensitive data and sensitive case studies but just about our processes and the people who are involved and the facts and figures behind Prevent I think would go some way to installing a bit of confidence rather than people having to rely on freedom of information request for example to get scraps of information. I do think Prevent is improving in that respect, I do think it is becoming much more transparent, much more open, much more forthright and I think that should continue. And I think we can also be better as the report suggested communicating the various successes that Prevent has had because I have to say, despite the national debates, despite the negativity in the political narrative and in the mainstream media about Prevent. I worked in Prevent and still do for some years now and I have only really encountered positivity at a grass roots level from people who have actually had practical experiences, who see it as a safe guarding tool and who have embraced it, most of our referrals themselves would turn around and say it has had a positive impact on their lives. The last thing I want to touch on before I finish, is perhaps in my eyes I know one of the most controversial aspects of the report but I do think it has been handled very sensitively in it and that’s the rule of religious observance and how that isn’t always necessarily a protective factor when it comes to radicalisation and like I say this is a potentially controversial sensitive area but the report rightly states that this in itself isn’t necessarily a sign of radicalisation. You know as with all the Prevent warning signs that we talk about you are not just looking for a one warning sign or vulnerability and isolation, we are looking for a combination of warning signs and in my personal experience we have had locally a significant number of people reported to Prevent purely because they have converted to Islam for example and that maybe it hasn’t been widely understood by the family and friends and whatever. Now in most of those cases that has been seen as a, actually a protective factor to be honest with you and as Prevent officers we have been able to use our community engagement and our local knowledge to actually sign post those young individuals to faith groups and mosques and support networks where you know, they can receive a positive influence as opposed to a negative one because at a vulnerable time in someone’s life when they make that change I would suggest that they can be just as open to negative influence as positive ones so it is important to promote those positive influences. Religious observance in and of itself isn’t a reason to report somebody to Prevent, you often hear scarce stories about if somebody decides to grow a beard or wear a hijab, they will be reported to Prevent well that shouldn’t happen and if it does, it will be treated with common sense and with sensitivity. I mean if I can conclude by saying that a lot of people are sometimes hesitant to make referrals to Prevent mainly down to a fear that “what if I’m wrong’ you know, what if I’m wide of the mark, I don’t want to be seen as insensitive, culturally or religiously, I don’t want to be perceived as racist” but my advice to anybody really is that this is to important really to not report any concerns and when we talk about the importance of information sharing, you never know what small piece of a jigsaw you might hold when you piece it together with what a teacher may have or with what social services may have or what with the police may have. At the end of the day if a case is dealt with correctly there should be no negative consequences for somebody who is inappropriately referred to Prevent they will not be on a watch list, they will not go on a DBS check, it will not stop them getting a job and there should be no criticism of anybody who makes an honestly held safe guarding report. There really shouldn’t because as this reports indicates the consequences are too tragic really to ignore these issues and that’s why it’s important that we take on board what it says and if we do have any concerns that we refer them when appropriate. That’s all I have to say for now but I will gladly answer some questions. I have no idea how I did for time by the way. My apologies if I over ran.

Timothy Stafford: Thank you Sean. Nicola…

Nicola Benyahia: Hi, my name is Nicola. I’m a mother of Rasheed who actually went in 2015 he was killed, he was out there for about five months and then he was killed. It is a little bit difficult for me at the moment so if I do get upset, I am usually quite contained but if I do please just be aware that I will be ok. It’s just it was his birthday, it should have been his birthday yesterday and those times when those come around whether its birthdays or even my daughter is getting married in a few months, they are very difficult times although you know it’s because he’s not here and he should be here and it kind of feels just so wrong that he was taken so soon. So yes, just be aware of that. I am fine, but it may come in. Emma got in touch with me and shared the report, now I have done a lot of work since my son left because I wanted to understand it. I was literally in a trauma when it all happened and I can’t under emphasize how it comes out of the blue and how you feel. Literally your life is literally turned upside down. I just wanted to understand it, I needed help and I didn’t find I could get any help. I found that I was really reaching out and there was just nothing. So I broadened my horizons and I went across Europe to get that help and lucky I did and got that support. It got me through all those months he was out there and even when he died and up until this day I still get that support from those people. But it was incredibly difficult. So it’s because I wanted to get those answers, I have gone all over. I have gone across Europe, I have just come back from the US, I have just come back from Washington last week. Now, what I find is that a lot of people have shared a lot of researchers have obviously come to me and they want to understand this subject. But what I found is the paper safe come out ways on the reports or their perspective. It has been quite good but there has always been something lacking. When Emma shared this report with me, it was one of the reports I felt oh god, ok we have got something going here, we have got a baseline we are working on something quite well here and it didn’t go home in because what I find a lot of reports home in on a particular perspective and they just go down a particular route which doesn’t help because we are human beings in the end of the day and we are so vastly complex anyway and I think the whole radicalisation brings in the vast complexity of it all as well and there is no single route to radicalisation the same way if somebody had an alcohol or drug addiction you wouldn’t think there is one single route to it, there isn’t. It is very complex, there are transitions in their lives, things happen, we have experiences that maybe the ingredients for that person to have an addiction. The same way to radicalisation, it’s the same kind of concept that there is no single route, there is lots and lots of routes to it. So I found that when I read this report it kind of, it homed in on that the complexity of it. I have heard a lot of it going around the bedroom radical and a lot of people since what has happened to me, people have asked me, was it online? And it seems to be one thing that people have jumped on, I don’t know whether it’s because it’s kind of a very quick, oh let us just put it on the World Wide Web and we can just blame it on that and google and whatever it is and it is just like a simple solution and it isn’t just that, that’s just a component, that just helps it along its way because human beings we need that connection we have to feel that connection with people, it doesn’t mean that the internet isn’t the ingredients with it that helps the 24/7 indoctrination of it but you still need that human element. So I certainly don’t think even in my son’s case, it was just down to the internet that certainly was something he did later on but it was certainly somebody who knew him and somebody who had that contact with him because he was also a very naïve young boy, we wasn’t somebody who was very worldly or very street wise. For him to be able to make a journey and plan it the way he did from being in Birmingham to get himself to Turkey to get him all the way across being smuggled across to Syria, there was no way he could not have researched that on the internet. You have to be verified, you can’t just get a ticket and just go to Syria and say right I’m going over the border, it’s not as simple as that. ISIS will not accept you unless you are verified, you have to have that recognition because they cannot risk either that you’re not going to be a spy, that you’re not coming in for other motives rather than for their cause. So that’s why I said he would have been guided through that and he would have had to have that interaction. The one thing as well that I found with the fact that he, when he left our home he actually left his whole room exactly as if he had gone to work His bed was unmade, his dirty socks were in the corner as he would usually put them, there wasn’t a toothbrush missing, there wasn’t any piece of clothing missing absolutely nothing that had indicated he had gone anywhere. Now he took a suitcase in the airport, he must have had somebody who was keeping him or had a suitcase ready for him. So that’s why I said all along the evidence shows that there has to be that human element to it, it can’t be just the internet you know I’m going to get a ticket and then I’m off, it just doesn’t work like that. So this like I said, I have always questioned this bedroom radical or is it just internet, it has just never sat with me very comfortably. So this report I kind of was glad to see that they were questioning this and one of the things to see as well and its incredibly difficult that people are very, very, sensitive about it is homing in on mosques or anything. Now we can’t deny that they don’t have gatherings and that’s what I was glad about the report when it came out that it’s not blaming a particular mosque and I said all along when my son went, I’m not blaming the mosque that he changed to, absolutely not but there was something that drew him into that mosque or somebody who drew him into there and what happens is, I think it was a stricter mosque where the Salafi, kind of the more observance was more accepted but it didn’t mean that the mosque itself was indoctrinating in a way and I think those can be by nature whether its colleges or universities they are hubs, it does not mean that the board or anybody is actually saying it’s ok, they are just hubs and they are gatherings of young people and if you have got gatherings of people anybody who’s observing sort of anybody, because there will be observers in these places who will be looking for the people who they can radicalize, people who are vulnerable to it, who they maybe look like they have converted to Islam so they might not know an awful lot of their religion so that’s a vulnerability in them. They may be going through a difficulty and that was one of the things with my son. I think at that point when he became drawn to radicalisation it was the fact because he was seeking something within the mosque. He was seeking some comfort because my husband and I had separated and his world in his view had fallen apart because he knew his mum and dad as solid, we were an incredibly close family and suddenly his world didn’t make sense anymore and he wanted to find an answer, he wanted to feel that comfort again and somebody around him saw that vulnerability, they saw he needed some answers. Now these recruiters will look for something like that and they will find, they don’t come in recruiting them and saying this is the answer or here I have, they don’t bring in the indoctrination they don’t bring in the radical ideas initially, they just aver the relationship, I am here for you, I am listening to you, I believe what you are saying. That’s what the person feels, so they are drawn to them and they nurture that relationship. The radicalisation comes much later down the line when they have got the in a trusting, it’s almost like being in an abusive relationship where you have got that trust and you are not going to question that person because why would you, you trust them now and that’s when the radicalisation and indoctrination starts coming in. It’s like a drip drip feeding and I always say it’s very much like an abusive relationship even when my son went to cross over to Syria and though he had gone over there it was still when the communication with him it was very evident that to me it was very much an abusive relationship. They had taken everything off him. They took his passport; they took everything you could think off. He couldn’t have contact with me for several months because they took everything. They took his passwords, they took his emails, contacts, you name it. They literally take their life over and they are literally a captive, there is no way, it is very rare that anybody can get back and leave on their own accord. Even with the communication with him it was very evident that he was talking as if he was that victim that abused person because when I asked him why have they got your passport, because I was angry, why have they got your passport and he said oh it’s to protect me and I said how is that to protect you and he said oh because if I go or change my mind they are trying to protect me because I might do something wrong, because if I’m going back they are saying it’s to protect me from sin and that was just purely it’s because it’s almost like I said again it’s that abusive relationship. They have got them in such a hold that they see the perpetrator as almost like their protector and they are not. So it was very difficult like I said with that communication and knowing your son was just really being this kind of victim, but again like I said I think towards the end though he kind of realized but unfortunately it was with the last week of his life where I felt there was a change with him and he kind of indicated he would not, because his phone calls were monitored 24/7 and it was very evident that somebody was constantly with him so we had to be careful about the communication but it was very evident he said to his sister the week before he got killed and I’m quite often when they are very indoctrinated they see everything very black and white, my son was beginning to see grey again and he said to my daughter ask god to pray for me, if I’m wrong about this that he guides me away from it and that was his way of saying I’m not sure about this, I think I have got myself in a mess but unfortunately it was a week later and he was killed. You were just talking about the trauma afterwards and there is no closure because I never have a body, I can’t have a funeral, I couldn’t share that with anybody. There is nothing afterwards you know because every religion or every culture no matter whether you believe in anything or not you have a way of saying goodbye to your loved ones. I couldn’t do any of that, I had a phone call that said your son is dead and it was a five-minute call and we asked where he was killed and he just said somewhere on the Syrian and Iraq border and that’s it, that’s all you get. You put the phone down and then you have to go back to normal life, going to work, because you can’t share this with anybody. So it was very very difficult and one of the things that you mentioned about the case studies and the reason I came out and went public was because I felt I was hearing a lot of people in reports saying this is how the family’s feel this is what’s going on with them, these are their thoughts, these are their feelings and actual fact this is all guess work because a lot of the families are not coming forward, they are too scared, they are too scared of being judged and stereotyped and so that was one of the reason I went public because I felt that it was important to give my daughters a voice as well because I felt with the shame and guilt that I was carrying, they were carrying that as well and they were going to be stripped of their voice or having any life in the future. We couldn’t move on as a family, we were stuck in our grief so that was the reason why I went public the fact that I wanted to encourage other families that you can get through this and you can get your voice back, it doesn’t mean you can bring your loved one back and it doesn’t mean that you’re not going to feel pain anymore, that will be there for the rest of my life but you can make some sort of life, it’s not going to be the same but you can carry on living but when you’re stuck and not being able to share this with people, I can’t even explain how it’s one of the worst things you can go through because you can talk about anything, you can talk about sexual abuse, you can talk about rape, you can talk about addictions and people understand it but radicalisation very very few people really understand it and that’s why I felt it’s so important to hear it from a parent whose gone through it from the beginning to the end to really understand and to start really talking about this because I still find that institutions still have, it’s not again about Prevent, I think Prevent are trying to do everything they can but what happens is it gets filtered down to people on the ground who don’t really understand it properly and sometimes a little bit of knowledge can be more dangerous than having none at all and that’s the problem we are facing and that’s why I feel it’s so important to be really talk about this openly so professionals as well don’t feel ill equipped because I think there is a fear as well around professionals that they feel they don’t understand it, they don’t want to say they don’t understand it properly and its almost an immediate reaction it’s like a hot potato, I have got to do something with this but I don’t really properly know. I was really happy with the report, it felt like we have got something we can really build on here and it’s really looking at the vast complexity of it all, rather than this kind of narrow lens.

Timothy Stafford: Nicola thank you very much, you talk about coming forward and I think all of us here are very very grateful to you for sharing your thoughts and for being as open and frank as you have been. I would just maybe like to start with the first question it’s to Sean, you mentioned in your remarks about trying to steer young people away from sometimes the path that they are on and I think it underscores the fact that yes these people are vulnerable but the reason they are vulnerable is because they are very impressionable and therefore there are ways in which you can steer them in the correct direction. I just wonder if you have a sense whether there is any research being done that is essentially the follow on to this which is First Spotting the Signs of Radicalisation but then Spotting the Signs of What Works and What Doesn’t Work. Are there efforts to build some kind of database of what is the best practice applied by Prevent Officers to what works, what doesn’t work, what has been effective and what’s not been effective.

Sean Arbuthnot: I don’t think there is to be honest, but there should be. There is definitely a gap for that, to be honest with you a lot of the best practice that we developed as local Prevent Officers was shared through word of mouth to be honest. When I mentioned that visit to the Holocaust Centre for example, that was, I mean I can’t take credit for it, it was nothing to do with me I didn’t think of it but someone hit upon that as a bit of a brainwave it hadn’t been done before and then there are other regions who found out how successful that was that the Holocaust Centre now find themselves inundated with requests to have young referrals come along so a bit of trial and error and seeing what works but I think one of the key for the successful interventions was that they needed to first of all be delivered as early as possible, you know the earlier on that path that somebody is the more chance of success that you have. If somebody is already an extremist or already radicalized for example than Prevent is not going to do a lot for them, they will probably sit more with the pursuit side of Counter Terrorism so identifying the signs earlier is key and then making the support tailored to that particular individual. I think that is one of the strengths of channel and Prevent because although it draws on the expertise of people say through things like maybe a mental health diagnoses or through workshops and schools or things like that but when you can tap in to what makes an individual tick because often times these grievances that they hold are very personal, doesn’t matter if they are real or perceived grievances either if they are real to them then that’s the ball game really you know and I have certainly had cases, there was this one young lad that as long as he was engaged in say a full time employment, he could never hold down a job but if he did hold down a job that kept him focused in a way from other more negative activities if you know what I mean and then if he would ever lose a job all of a sudden he would come back to the Prevent folder again and then we would work and get him some work experience and then find him a job again and think happy days he’s of the books again and then he would lose that and then he’ll be back. So it is all about having something constructive and it’s tailored to the individual but from what you said I do think there is a gap there in terms of identifying best practice.

Timothy Stafford: I feel that I may have tossed Emma with her next report accidentally but one thing at a time. Do we have now some questions for any of our speakers? Yes, sir…

Question 1:

Euan Grant: Thank you very much indeed, Euan Grant, I am a former Customs and Excise intelligence analyst. I do remember very clearly the turn of the century a number of worrying developments of frankly ‘politically correct’ procedures which I said at the time and it was widely shared by colleagues was going to cause problems in years to come by inhibiting people from looking at things thoroughly. My question for everyone but particularly following two points one from Miss Webb and one from Mr Arbuthnot, you made the point about the limit that you also made about the limited, the far from complete role of online that it is much more complex than that and I think you mentioned low hanging fruit going after online, do you think Baroness Warsi was really being sincere when she said about in the home online, do you think that she was saying that as a reason or frankly as an alibi absolving perhaps the way that Islamic Community and secondly for Mr Arbuthnot did I detect in what you said that a lot of the achievements of Prevent depend on having the right people in the right place and there are shall we say certain local authorities in organizations which are perhaps not stepping up to the play quite as well as others. I can’t help feel that maybe your first hand or second hand experiences in relation to the Northern Island conflict, although there are many differences then there are a number of similarities perhaps make you particularly valuable here. Thank you.

Timothy Stafford: Thank you.

Emma Webb: I wouldn’t like to make a guess about Baroness Warsi’s motives, but I think in her case it would be reasonable to think that, I mean in any case that there is and rightly so a hesitance to pin things on mosques and to pin things on institutions so it would be wrong to for example say that if there a lot of people coming from particular institutions such as a school like the school I mentioned, Holland Park School in Chelsea that there’s therefore some kind of blame implied by that. We should be more positive in seeing the institutional contact there as some kind of opportunity, but I think that we also have to be careful our hesitance doesn’t make us too hesitant when there is enough evidence to suggest that there might be a problem. I think it is possible that she was just reflecting that hesitance and then drawing a false conclusion which is therefore, because so many mosques say, which is the case that a lot of the mosques that were mentioned in these cases said that radicalisation occurred online and it may be the case but we found that in most of the cases when there wasn’t some kind of online activities there were other things as well so I think it is dangerous to take that hesitance and then go that one step further.

Euan Grant: I was once warned by somebody that I might be in danger from a terrorist group because I had criticized an organization linked to that group and where frankly I would argue the links are heavily under reported, that was not an Islamic linked issue at all. Thank you.

Sean Arbuthnot: If I could just make a brief comment about the online aspects and to expand on that I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of anybody who talks about the importance of the online world because at the end of the day it permeates everything we do these days, you do your shopping, you get your news, everything we do is online so it is only natural that there is an element of online radicalisation because it is everywhere at the end of the day. What I don’t think is particularly helpful is when we focus on the ticky box, checklists when we look ‘say’ do we know somebody who has become increasingly quiet spends all day in their bedroom and spends excessive amounts of time online because you could be talking about me or any teenager in that respect. So we do need to get a little bit deeper than just saying it is all online, we do need to be a little bit more careful in how we approach those. So that is all I am saying in relation to that. In respect of consistency and delivery and organizations not stepping up to the plate, I do think that it is an area in which Prevent could probably improve and that’s consistency of delivery on the national basis which I have to say is very difficult to implement when you are looking at 40 plus police forces, goodness knows how many authorities, different budgets, different priorities, different regional issues and to try and implement the national policy equally across the board is going to be very difficult, in some areas get funding in others don’t depending on their priority and what not, so that’s an area we can improve on but from my own personal experience, certainly in the East Midlands and from most other Prevent teams that I have come across the capability and the passion of the individual Prevent Officers I have never worked with a finer bunch of people and they have come from all walks of life and all backgrounds and all religions and it’s disheartening when, you don’t want thanks and praise do you know what I mean but they shouldn’t get criticized time and time again because I think that puts some people of from being a bit more open and transparent about Prevent when you stick your head above the power pit you tend to get shot down if you know what I mean and that’s not right because there are a lot of great people who work in Prevent but their role isn’t widely publicized.

Question 2:

Jonathan Hoffman: I am Jonathan Hoffman and this is not my professional area but I have a strong interest in it. I would have thought that there is a distinction between private and public is actually a bit of a dead end because the difference really blurs, what is private? You have friends on your Facebook who are maybe your friends in real life or may not be, so I would just not go down that road. My question is to Emma really and anybody else who wants to come in. The difference between converts and people who are born Muslim maybe these people are too young for any of them to be converts but we know that converts do tend to feature more in the extremism statistics then people who are born a Muslim. So that is one question and then on the question of mosques I mean we know that some preachers in mosques are much more radical than others, I am thinking of Deobandi Preachers. There is this guy called Ajmal Masroor who is often on the BBC but if you read some of his sermons they are horrific. Did you pick up any difference between the Deobandi Preachers and non-Deobandi Preachers, any difference between mosques, I mean Nicola you talked about your son switching from one mosque to another right, we know which mosques are headed by extremist preachers we know it so is that not something we can pick up and then the sort of statistical question again to Emma is you thought that the relationship issue was more important than the kind of online issue, I mean statistically how do you actually pick that up or is that a type of qualitative thing you come out with from doing the research? Is that statistically something you can prove?

Emma Webb: I am going to go back to front, the statistical side of things it’s a case of and not just in this report but trends more generally, I mean yes in a sense it’s qualitative because you begin from qualitative evidence but you can tally them up. In the report we actually do have a table tallying up various characteristics and sources that would suggest this is a source to radicalisation. So we can see that in a huge number of cases there are connections with other extremist in social service not just with these students but also in the previous report the reason it came out Islamist terrorism and in previous reports looking at European extremists. And to answer your other question, the mosques and the preachers we didn’t look specifically at as you said the Deobandi it didn’t come out so much, there was that mosque that I mentioned Al-Manar mosque in Cardiff which we do know had a number of extremist preachers who may or may not have been there or had actual contact with the students but we do know that they were there and it is a case that obviously there is a real problem with the sort of non-violent extremism that as the witness said, I am referring to Al-Manar it helps to draw them step towards thinking that it’s ok to kill Shias, it’s ok to kill into hate, people who are not Muslim and so on. It is a vulnerability factor that makes it easier to be prayed on by other individuals but the Deobandi side of things and the details about the mosques isn’t something that necessarily came out but as I said from this report you can’t go and then blame individual institutions for happenings, you have to see it as an opportunity for intervention by offering them the appropriate support because it is probably the case that with a number of those institutions that they really did as I state explicitly in some cases tell there congregation or worn them not to go to Syria and that they are being particularly careful in that way so, It’s not something that you can take on the basis of this evidence but it doesn’t mean it’s not necessarily a problem and also the converts so the majority of the people in this report and in fact I think it would be fair to say all of the people in this report though I am not 100% sure were from Muslim families. A number of them were from a moderate Muslim families and you are right to say on the converts that you have seen from this study I just mentioned Islamist terrorism that all of the people convicted for terror offences in this country between 1999 and 2015 that converts were disproportionately represented in the terrorism statistics or the terrorism conviction statistics that wasn’t the fact that came out much in this report I have to suggest still as why that might be but it is the case I think,

Jonathan Hoffman: 29 is quite a small sum…

Emma Webb: That’s because of the sapien process, we are using open source and there are probably more students who have travelled and which we simply do not know about but we do know the converts do have that extra vulnerability factor, people who have been brought-up in moderate Muslim families where they have a strong sense of religious identity may have sort of a natural safeguard where as I mentioned before the factor of low integrative cognitive complexity that they are possibly less likely to fall into that binary black and white thinking that Nicola described earlier and more likely to have a sense of shades of gray and because they naturally throughout their life have been marinaded in the cultural aspects of things that are a kind of safeguard against more extreme opinions that converts might be more inclined towards because maybe they want to prove their devotion to their new religion or they just simply don’t understand aspects of that religion yet and they don’t have any of those cultural safeguards and often if they are disapproved by their family when they convert then they will be taken out of that context, put into a new one where they don’t have a support network and they don’t have any friends and they are much more easily prayed on by people who would like to exploit their weaknesses.

Timothy Stafford: Thanks Emma, we only have time just for one more question because I am afraid the room will be needed after for a different purpose. Yes, sir…

Question 3:

Rupert Sutton:  Hi my name is Rupert Sutton, I used to work here at The Henry Jackson. I was going to ask Nicola, you opened an organization up by yourself and you provide them various services to people who come, I suppose across the problems caused by radicalization. What have you found as being one of the most affective service or the service that people have come to you asking for? And how helpful has your local authority been in sign posting other people towards your service?

Nicola Benyahia: Yes, I mean a lot of the families or people in visual is just because they haven’t even been able to talk about it so even just saying it openly to somebody is a huge massive step. Quite often it’s not direct contact what I usually get because it’s such a scary process that when they step out it is usually through email or through a message and you find that there will be a gap because they are kind of testing the water almost so you tend to get that before the interaction will start, again I have had people reaching out from all over, reaching out from the US and all across Europe as well, people who have even returned. There was a grandfather who actually had his daughter return and was going through that and with grandchildren as well and having to support him through that as well because now his daughter was incarcerated and he had two grandchildren who he didn’t even know but they were under his care and you know… so it can be very complex and even people who are just reaching out like family, because what you find with the families when it is very early early stages sometimes you will find that they won’t come out with it straight away, they are chatting with me and they tend to chat and just go you know and they will know about my background and they will just chat and then somehow in the middle of a conversation they will slip in about some concern and then you have to kind of go hang on because they have just thrown it in and quite often they will throw it in, they don’t mention the word right but it is quite often they will say something about mental health and that’s the first thing they will bring up it is about some sort of mental health of their child or something they are going through, they think they are a bit depressed and whatever and they are almost testing you as well kind of saying are you safe for me to share this, because that’s what they are doing just seeing whether they can trust you because trust and I know from myself, for somebody to believe you and somebody you can trust is the biggest thing. I don’t want to know about your resume, I don’t want to know about your background and what you come with. I just want you to believe me and I want to know that I am safe with you and that is the biggest element of building that relationship. Sorry what was the second thing that you mentioned?

Rupert Sutton: I was just wondering whether you had any luck with the local authorities.

Nicola Benyahia: No, not an awful lot if I am being honest it has been incredibly slow. I have come from obviously Birmingham today and I am finding that Westminster have reached out to me and I have often come down here to do some workshops with young people. I have gone all over, I have just come from Washington, I have been to Jordan, I have been to Netherlands, everywhere. I find that on my doorstep whether it’s too close to home and it’s almost like because again we have been in the spot light recently I find that they haven’t really reached out an awful lot and I am not sure whether it is fear of, I think, I am not really sure about what it is and I am trying to work it out myself. I am not sure if it is because they don’t quite know how to utilize me, I am not really sure what is going on with them but it is one of those very tentative relationships at the moment I am trying to build on because it is very much needed particularly in the West Midlands and everywhere I go people are saying this should be happening it needs to be utilized again I just feel that with the local authority it is all new territory the whole thing and they are just kind of like ok we didn’t really think about this before, oh gosh right, we have to ask the families, we didn’t even think of that agenda. So I think it is very mute and again it is all about saving faces and they don’t really want to come across as though they don’t really know so I think they really want a plan before they put anything on the table so I kind of think there is a bit of that going on.

Sean Arbuthnot: May I just take advantage of being in the panel and ask a brief follow up to that in terms of, did you have much interaction with the police and the authorities when your son was in Syria? And how would you rate that openly?

Nicola Benyahia: When my son went missing I immediately, for me there wasn’t even a hesitation about contacting the police because I wanted him back full stop. I didn’t know where he was, I had no indication of where he was so I immediately contacted the police. The police were obviously involved right from day 1. Now they had a job to do, they were investigating and they needed to gather the facts but it was very difficult for me as a family because I wanted support and that’s where the problem I found arose because actually there was nothing to support the family but they had a job to do and I respected that but I also needed something for myself. So I found that although they were incredibly, I mean I had 12 officers in my house, there was a search warrant, they were in the house all day and they were incredibly, I have to say, respectful. Because one of the things, we have an incredibly nosy neighbour and I said to them please do not you know you have got uniforms and they said they would cover everything up and they made sure they covered everything up. They had to take things for forensics and I was like oh for god’s sake, it’s obvious if you are going out with those bags you are going to know what it is, so they said we will put it in bin bags and so whatever they could do to kind of respect and to make sure they safeguarded us, they did although they had a job to do at the end of the day but my frustration and it wasn’t to do, there were a lot of things in the investigation and it is not criticism of them and I always said that all along its about learning from it, learning about ok, what is it that’s missing this time and it’s not about criticizing, I just don’t believe in that I think it is important to put it on the table and put our heads together and bring the solutions. So actually it is when I spoke them saying well this needs to be, and aren’t you looking, what about this aspect of it. It’s really about getting them to think differently because every case is different and its only by families really sharing that they are going to understand and learn the next case and I think that’s what fortunately when they realize that we had no idea about my son and what was going on I then believe that it was probably a couple of months going in that I felt like they actually believed us, I think then I felt it was very much a mutual respect. I did even afterwards, I am still in contact with one of the lead officers and to be honest I think I will never forget her and I always keep a link with her because she even afterwards was still new, after the investigation closed it was like there was just nothing.

Guest: Did they not give you family support offers?

Nicola Benyahia: No, nothing. The case closed as soon as I gave that phone call and said he is dead, that was it. Close the case now and that was right they had a job they did it and that was it. But the thing was the family are just left with nothing. Fortunately, that lead officer constantly linked with me. She went out of her job but she linked with me because she realized actually what are we doing and I kept saying this is wrong because what is happening here is, you have to understand when Rasheed went over there he had to give everything, they have our numbers they have our passwords they have our contacts. I had to protect my daughters, I had to change their numbers and I said I am a mother that is fighting and I am looking for the knowledge and I am more aware but what about families who are stuck in the grief who haven’t got the strength, who haven’t got the skills and I said potentially the recruiters would come after the siblings because that’s what they target next whether it’s this year, the year after, they will come after them afterwards and you are leaving a huge loophole in the system and that’s why I said something had to be done for the families and I made it very clear to the police that I would do something once I was ready and strong enough that I would try my way of filing some sort of gap I felt that was needed. But like I said because there was a couple of officers they were very respectful and I think that it is important, you know when you said about celebrating sometimes some of the work and recognizing it. When my son had died, he had been dead for about four to five months, I sent a letter to the commissioner in the West Midlands to praise the officers and the team of how respectful they were and at incredibly difficult times and I wouldn’t have liked to have met them in any other circumstance but unfortunate the situation that we did meet but throughout the investigation they were incredibly respectful and I think it is important that we just don’t constantly highlight the bad cases there are things that do happen and go wrong, it is human nature it happens but it is also about celebrating and recognizing when it does go right and lets kind of role that out more.

Timothy Stafford: Positive note on which to end. The hard copies of the report are just in the process of being printed but I think they should appear on our website fairly soon so people can have an opportunity to read it in full detail and I hope you get the chance to do so and thank you very much all for coming today and also thank you to our three speakers on some excellent presentations and some good thought so thank you very much.


Lost your password?

Not a member? Please click here