Here are three real-life stories of young people influenced by extremism who have managed to break free.
Kamran is 14 and from the West Midlands. Social workers picked up on comments he made in support of Osama Bin Laden, joining Daesh and killing Americans. They contacted his school safeguarding lead, who explained that Kamran had wider communication and behavioural difficulties, including autism. His mother was also very ill, and he had unsupervised access to the internet, which was a particular concern given the statements he had made.
The local authority referred Kamran to the Channel programme and with the consent of his parents he was taken on as a case and given a mentor, Daud, who was a youth worker.
Kamran was a good footballer, and Daud encouraged him to enjoy football and the company of his friends. He talked about Islamic teachings with Kamran as well as the positive aspects of being the only Muslim pupil at the school, and explored the possibility of holding an Islamic awareness day. Daud also met Kamran’s parents and accompanied him to the mosque.
Kamran’s parents recognised the importance of working with Daud, and Daud helped them to build stronger family relationships and manage Kamran’s use of the internet. The Channel programme also provided support to the school and organised for Prevent officers to visit the school and provide WRAP training, to raise awareness of extremism and radicalisation.
There was a steady improvement in Kamran’s behaviour. He was better supervised at home and his parents learned how to deal with some of his challenging behaviour.
Kamran learned to speak to his father if he saw something that he did not understand. His behaviour at school improved and he no longer made extremist statements. Kamran’s school even decided to make him a school ambassador so he can act as a role model and advocate for other students. School staff and management have said: “He is a different student now to the troubled boy we knew six months ago. He has matured and transformed into the young man our school hoped he could be and we are very grateful for the success the mentor has achieved.”
Yusuf is 24 and a postgraduate student at a Welsh university. A university staff member, Claire, saw Yusuf in the town centre handing out leaflets for an education charity. She took a leaflet although he was initially reluctant to hand one over. When Claire got home she read the leaflet and looked at the organisation online – it had a very well-constructed site with lots of links to other websites, but their aims and objectives seemed a little vague. After following several links, Claire was directed to an extremist website which promoted violence and homophobia. She reported this to the Prevent coordinator at the university, who contacted the police.
Previous concerns had been highlighted about Yusuf’s behaviour in the university as he had become reclusive and on occasion very argumentative. Yusuf was interviewed by Student Services and Channel police officers, who determined that he was at risk of radicalisation. He was open about the fact that he had been ‘befriended’ by older men at his mosque who were known to have extremist beliefs. This had happened over a period of six months, with late-night discussions and weekend meetings. His mainstream religious views were gradually eroded and he had started to identify with an extremist ideology. Yusuf accepted support from Channel and Student Services, including chaplaincy and psychological provision. This support was provided for a year, until it was decided that Yusuf was no longer at risk. He went on to successfully complete his studies and has started a PhD.
Callum is a teenager from Luton. His teacher, Ruth, knew that he was starting to get an intimidating reputation around school. A student told Ruth that Callum had been promoting a Facebook page for a group called the Young Patriots. Ruth had a look at the website and found that it contained violent language and links to extreme right-wing sites. When she and the head teacher asked Callum about the site he said that he didn’t have a problem with other races in general, just Muslims. He told them Muslims were not like “us” and that every time he attended a football match, he’d walk to the ground through a predominantly Muslim area of the city and “see them doing their Sharia law”. Ruth asked him what that meant and Callum gave a confused answer about how the town was divided up and there were ‘no-go’ areas.
It became clear that Callum had met people at football matches who encouraged him to get involved in the Young Patriots Facebook page. Callum said he liked the attention and he told his teachers excitedly about being invited to “secret” group meetings in pubs before and after games, without his mum or dad there. The school safeguarding lead reported the concern to a police liaison officer who confirmed that the Young Patriots site contained highly racist material.
The school also spoke to Callum’s family, who confirmed they had seen less and less of Callum and that he had also distanced himself from his friends. They helped convince him to talk to a social care worker recommended by the police liaison officer. From the first session it was evident that Callum didn’t understand the ideology of the group he’d linked himself to. He began to open up about his personal concerns, including how worried he was about finding work when he left school. The school’s careers manager worked with Callum to help him look at his future career options, including working for and with other communities.
Callum also agreed to attend an ethnically diverse youth group – this became a weekly fixture for him and gave him confidence in socialising with his own age group. At home, an uncle and cousin stepped in to take him to football matches so he had a routine and positive role models, as well as the family bond that was so important to him.
Callum now says he can see where things had been heading. It was later discovered that he had a flare which he’d intended to take on a march. The action taken by Ruth meant Callum was able to move forward positively and that others were protected from any violence he may have committed.