A Muslim teenager in London gives the first inside account of how extremists are luring recruits
A TEENAGER has revealed how he was recruited by Al-Qaeda-inspired extremists and groomed to carry out suicide attacks in Britain.
In the first insider account of how radicals are preying on vulnerable Muslim youths, the teenager describes being approached by Islamists at a mosque in south London that was used by the failed 21/7 bombers, and indoctrinated at a secret network of squats.
Aged 15, he was the youngest of about 50 recruits who were shown “martyrdom” videos and encouraged to travel to Pakistan to receive terrorist training.
The youth, who is called Adam, told The Sunday Times: “They showed us a jihadist video with the martyrdom flags behind the guy speaking, and the message I got was that I should prepare myself for martyrdom.
“I know a few of the others accepted that they would go [for training in Pakistan]. Some of the young people said, ‘I’m going to go’. That was the ultimate purpose of what these men were doing: what they were doing was training people up to carry out operations in the UK.”
Adam, who is now 18, quit the group after a year. The whereabouts of most of the other recruits is unknown.
“It was quite shocking to me,” he said. “I started to think, ‘Well, hold on a second, I don’t want to kill anybody. Yeah, I’ve got anger inside me, but this isn’t the right way to deal with this’.”
Adam, whose real name is being withheld to protect his safety, is now enrolled in a rehabilitation programme for would-be terrorists.
The scheme is a blueprint for a nationwide “detoxification” programme backed by the Home Office and police chiefs to which 200 people — some as young 13 — have been referred.
When Adam fell under the spell of extremists at the Stockwell mosque in Lambeth in 2005, he was floundering at school, had few friends and was desperately in need of some direction.
He was the eldest of seven children whose Algerian father had died when he was just eight, and his new friends’ talk of Muslim brotherhood seemed to offer the stability he craved.
“A lot of people think that terrorists are recruited in special recruiting grounds, but the truth is that it actually goes on in mosques a lot of the time,” said the gangly south London teenager.
“You’ll go to pray and there’ll be small groups of people just away from the main group in the mosque having their own discussion, talking about jihad and all these types of things.
“They started talking to me about what’s going on in Iraq and about how all the people are dying and then they started inviting me to religious talks.”
The Stockwell mosque had previously been attended by Muktar Ibrahim and Hussain Osman, two of the four men who failed in their attempt to carry out suicide bombings on London’s transport network on July 21, 2005 — two weeks after the 7/7 attacks which killed 52 commuters.
Adam’s new mentors were Mohammed Hamid, a preacher with links to the 21/7 bombers who called himself Osama Bin London, and Atilla Ahmet, a former aide to Abu Hamza, the hook-handed cleric of Finsbury Park mosque in north London.
After police closed down Hamza’s power base in 2004, Hamid and Ahmet moved to take control of Stockwell mosque.
A month after Adam was approached at the mosque, he was invited to the first of many meetings at a rundown squat in south London. It was here — and in similar buildings — that the real process of indoctrination went on, with exposure to violent videos, including footage of beheadings.
“They would show us videos of people bragging about 7/7 and 9/11 and they made it clear that they approved of it,” said Adam, who was one of two 15-year-old recruits, the youngest out of a group of 15-20 men.
“They weren’t as blunt as to say, ‘Yes, we did this’ or ‘We did that’. They were more aware than anyone that there’s a chance that someone in that room could be recording them.”
Adam was told that more advanced recruits had been sent on training exercises to the Lake District and the New Forest in Hampshire, as well as paintballing sessions in the home counties. At Ibrahim’s trial it emerged that several of these training camps were the subject of police surveillance.
Adam said Ahmet and Hamid, who helped to radicalise some of the 21/7 bombers at his east London home, often distorted quotes from the Koran to back their arguments.
“For example, the Koran says killing innocents is one of the biggest sins, but they would say that the innocents were just collateral damage and it was therefore okay,” said Adam.
Unlike Ibrahim, Adam never travelled to Pakistan. Hamid and Ahmet were arrested in a south London restaurant in September 2006 with seven other followers. The pair were jailed for terrorism offences last year.
Adam and about 45 other young men are now being rehabilitated through a training programme run by an education centre attached to Stockwell mosque. Designed and run by Toaha Qureshi, a mosque trustee, the programme’s intensive courses combine religious and social mentoring with sports activities and business training.
One former would-be suicide bomber has recently set up his own car-washing business with the Stockwell centre’s help.
“We have another young man who has been with us for almost nine months,” said Qureshi. “He spent time in prison on terrorism charges, but now works here, as well as completing his foundation course in business.
“We are working here to protect the community by re-engaging these young men into productive activity.”
In 2003, when Qureshi first complained about extremists “inciting racial and religious hatred” at Stockwell mosque, police took little action. Now the authorities are showing a keen interest in the success of his “detox” programme. Indeed, it is virtually a blueprint for a controversial national rehabilitation scheme called the Channel Project.
Set up by the Home Office in 2007 with pilot schemes in Lambeth and Lancashire, the project has since been expanded to 11 sites across the UK, and there are plans for a further 15.
More than 200 people — including two 13-year-olds and some individuals as old as 50 — have been identified as “vulnerable” to radicalisation and offered support via the Channel Project.
The programme relies on teachers, parents and other community figures to be vigilant for signs indicating an attraction to extremist views.
Commander Craig Denholm, the police officer responsible for overseeing Channel, denied that it amounted to “spying” on the Muslim community.
Reflecting on his indoctrination and the prospect of becoming a suicide bomber, Adam admitted last week: “I feel very grateful that I didn’t go down that road. Now I want an office job.”
Via: Times Online