Hundreds of British teenagers are in danger of being radicalised by Islamic State(ISIS) because they see the terrorists as “pop idols”, the country’s leading Muslim prosecutor has said.
Nazir Afzal believes that recent departures to Syria show that “many more children” are at risk of what he terms “jihadimania” than was previously thought.
“The boys want to be like them and the girls want to be with them,” he said. “That’s what they used to say about the Beatles and more recently One Direction and Justin Bieber. The propaganda the terrorists put out is akin to marketing, and too many of our teenagers are falling for the image.
“They see their own lives as poor by comparison, and don’t realise they are being used. The extremists treat them in a similar way to sexual groomers – they manipulate them, distance them from their friends and families, and then take them.”
Afzal, who has just stepped down as head of the Crown Prosecution Service in the north-west, said he fears that “another 7/7” could happen unless Britain introduces a community-led approach to counter-terrorism.
He made his comments as police were granted more time to question six people arrested in Dover on suspicion of Syria-related terrorism offences. The five men and one woman, who are all in their 20s, were detained at around 8am on Friday.
Around 600 young Muslims are thought to have left the country to join Isis fighters in Syria.
Afzal claims the current strategy relies almost entirely on police and the security services. “It is stale and repetitive and goes only to the usual suspects and the usual charities in our communities.
“I know from experience that the police are often reduced to holding endless meetings with so-called community leaders who represent no one but themselves. This is a new dawn in terrorism and so we need a new dawn in the ways we tackle it.”
He wants the next government to mobilise an army of young British Muslims that he believes will be best equipped to turn would-be ISIS fighters back from the brink.
“We need to engage with the sorts of young people who can stop radicalisation at source. It’s a bit like drug addiction. Telling them ‘It’s bad for you’ or calling the police on them is not going to solve the problem, unless it is too serious to wait. The message would have much more power if it came from recovering ‘addicts’ and other youths from their own communities that they can see as role models.
“Thousands of young people and professionals can be encouraged to show these potential radicals what their lives could be. They don’t want to hear from men with long beards, they don’t want to hear from faith leaders. They want to hear from women and from young professionals who can show them there is hope if they stay in education and make a contribution locally.”
Afzal said: “At the moment, even the language is wrong. People talk about Isis as if they have some kind of religious basis or political dimension – a kind of glossy, glorious campaign.
“The reality is that they’re no more than narcissistic, murderous cowboys. We need to stand up and say that very, very clearly, rather than allow kids to be drawn to them like the equivalent of pop idols.”