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Terrorism in the UK: Social media is now the biggest jihadi training camp of them all
Unable to control online radicalism, police have little option but to plead with Muslim women to dissuade their menfolk from enlisting
If an Islamic terrorist is apprehended in Detroit or blows himself up in Stockholm, it doesn’t usually take long to trace their career progression back to Britain. The CIA despairingly refers to “Londonistan”, but the phrase doesn’t quite do justice to Britain’s ability to incubate terrorism all over the country. For various reasons – chiefly our being quicker to accept asylum-seekers than expel villains – Britain has ended up as a kind of finishing school for jihadis.
So it is no great surprise to learn that an estimated 400 Brits have so far been to Syria to join the rebels – after which, it is feared, they’ll return home radicalised by Islamist insurgents. It’s a fast-growing trend. Last year, the number of Syria-related arrests here was one every two weeks. So far this year, there has been one every two days. This explains the police’s unprecedented appeal to Muslim women, asking them to dissuade (or inform on) menfolk who enlist. It’s not clear how plausible such advice is, but there’s not much else the police feel able to do.
The war on terror, in Britain, has not been about border control or keeping an eye on foreign terror plots. Our terrorists tend to be home-grown, with one or two major attacks foiled every year. Only the 2005 London bombings were successful, but MI5 still has its eye on hundreds of suspects.
Over the years, police have come to work out how young men, with every opportunity in life, manage to walk down the road to radicalisation. Fighting terrorism involves a combination of policing, intelligence and psychology.
At the start, British jihadis could often be traced to foreign training camps. With 250,000 travelling to Pakistan each year, it was easy for a few to slink off undetected to al-Qaeda bases in the badlands. As the drone bombing campaign made it harder to operate such camps, they popped up in Africa – some of them dedicated to attacks on Britain. About 50 British nationals are understood to have attended the camps in Somalia, but it’s a hard place to reach. There are tales of would-be terrorists having their passports confiscated, so they can never leave. For the typical jetset jihadi, the African camps are a remote and risky option.
As you might expect, this form of cyber-jihad has been pioneered in Britain. During the Iraq war, a Londoner, Younes Tsouli, set up a website showing the best jihadi videos. He attracted the admiration of al-Qaeda leaders in Iraq, who fed him material. He ran an online message board service, where prospective suicide bombers could be linked up with al-Qaeda. (“I’m ready to run off but I’m under 18,” asked one user. “Am I too young?” “They have no objection to age,” came the reply).
It doesn’t take a counter-terrorism manual to understand how young men can be brainwashed into joining a foreign war. Take Muriel Spark’s 1961 book, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. It tells of a powerful, charismatic school teacher who has a picture of fascist troops on the wall and tries to mould the identities of her students. One of her protégées, Joyce Emily, is persuaded to “see sense” and fight with the fascists in Spain, where she dies. When one of the pupils is asked, in later life, whether her main influences had been political or religious, she replies: “There was a Miss Jean Brodie in her prime.”
There are plenty of Islamists in their prime today, and it’s never been easier to hear them. One is Ahmad Musa Jibril, an American who does not directly endorse violence in Syria but acts as a cheerleader for the Westerners fighting there. Another is Musa Cerantonio, an Australian who converted from Catholicism and speaks in English, and is less guarded about his support for jihad. The days where you needed to attend a hardline mosque to hear radical imams – or somehow find a contraband video – are over. The digital skills that made Younes Tsouli stand out five years ago are now everywhere. And has taken the great game of counter-terrorism to another level.
There is a great difference between faith driven xenophobic war, as fought by extremist Muslim groups against, well.. everyone else, and being prepared to question, and even despise the actions and individuals in ones own government.
Does anyone think ATS has a role in deterring terrorism?