A community fights back

Standing up against online radicalisation

The Muslim community in Bristol have come together to make a unique film to challenge online radicalisation and combat militant brainwashing as Pamela Parkes reports.

"We need to speak up against this warped ideology and perverted version of Islam that people try to put out there" 

Rizwan Ahmed

"Islamic State are three steps ahead of the rest of us - they are very savvy, very smart and they have a very strong propaganda machine, which they are using to get people to buy into their cause," says Rizwan Ahmed from the Bristol Muslim Cultural Society.

There has been a small but growing number of cases of Bristol Muslims being radicalised online and the community has reacted by producing a pioneering video, which aims to combat radicalisation and Islamophobia.

“We need to speak up against this warped ideology and perverted version of Islam that people try to put out there,” says Ahmed.

This urge to speak out has prompted ordinary members of Bristol's Muslim community to go on camera and discuss their faith and try to counteract the compelling recruiting narrative used by groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda.

Requests for copies of A Community Response to Extremism are coming in from across the UK and as far away as the USA and Australia, as communities and police forces struggle to combat online extremism.


Yusra Hussien 

Shock waves went through the Bristol Muslim community last September when 15-year-old Yusra Hussien from Easton disappeared and traveled to Syria. Her family are convinced the student at City Academy was brainwashed after making contact with radicals online.

Ahmed said the community was devastated by Yusra's actions: "I think it highlights a misconception out there that grooming is happening in the mosques but it's not - the mosques are doing their bit but it is all happening online."

Convincing Muslim parents to wake up to the dangers of online radicalisation is the key says community spokeswoman Muna Abi: “We thought our children were safe at home. When they on the street you worry about what they get up to but the internet is there and it feeding fear to our children...It's scary.”

However, keeping track of what teenagers are up to on line is tricky for any parent, says Kalsoom Bashir who worked with the police and the community to produce the video: “It's a huge concern and it could impact on anyone of us.

“I'm a Muslim and I have children so I need to stay on top of the game and I need to have those conversations with my children about how radicals are recruiting young people and what the religion is actually about,” she adds.

"Three years ago it was virtually unheard of"

Chief Inspector Patrick McGowan

While Bristol has been relatively untouched by internet radicalisation, Chief Inspector Patrick McGowan from the South West Counter-Terrorism Investigation Team says the number of young people who have tried to travel out to Syria are growing: "Three years ago it was virtually unheard of, it's becoming more common now - hence the importance of this DVD."

“The Bristol community are doing their best to set the record straight and give a counter narrative that challenge extremists of any form and hopefully protect their young people,” he says.

But will the video have an impact on an internet savvy generation?

At a youth centre in Lockleaze, Muslim teenagers think the video could have a positive impact. 16-year-old Halima Jama says she is passionate about trying to educate people about her faith. "Most people are visual so educating people about Islam through a video will promise more of an impact than people just talking to them."

Her friend Shaista Yaqub agrees: “There are a lot of positive things within the Muslim community which is never shown in the media so making a film is a good idea.”

“Due to stereotypes, it is crucial now that people are informed about our religion so that they can each make their own conclusion than follow someone else's general opinion.”

The video is not just designed to combat the online threat to young people but far-right extremists as well. “The far right use the misunderstanding of Islam to get people to their cause as well,” says Ahmed.

“Hopefully if young people watch this then, Muslim or non-Muslim, hopefully the will get a better understand of what Islam is actually about and will tackle both sides of the extremism coin.”

How can you stop them?

Andrew Ibrahim and Yusra Hussein

How do you de-radicalise Islamic extremists?

The South West Counter Terrorist team use a government initiative called Channel which focuses on providing support at an early stage to people who are identified as being vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism.

Chief Inspector McGowan says they will try to get a Syrian doctor or nurse to speak to vulnerable youngsters about the realities of the war in Syria.

The force has organised a series of community meetings talking about the dangers of online radicalisation. Just a month after Yusra left home Syrian refugee Susan Arafeh spoke at a meeting for Muslim mothers in St Werbergh's.

Chief Inspector McGowen says Ysura's disappearance taught them to recognise earlier if a vulnerable person has gone missing: "Previously we may have thought that was just young people staying away from home, now we have now managed to get the education program into officers and parents heads - that actually this may be a sign that someone is attempting to get out to Syria via Turkey."

Inspector Janice Pearson, who helps lead workshops in Bristol into online radicialisation, says young people can be easily led. 

The New York Times looks at how three London schoolgirls were lured to join ISIS by a combination of youthful rebellion and radical religion.

Yusra Hussein

Yusra Hussien was 15-years-old when she left her Easton home in September last year. She joined up with another teenage girl and boarded a flight to Turkey.

Yusra was reported missing by her parents who said their daughter left for school at the City Academy as usual but was not there when her father went to pick her up at the end of the day.

The South East Counter Terrorism Unit has taken over the search for the missing teenager who they believe is still in Syria

Andrew Ibrahim

Bristol student Andrew Ibrahim was a former public school boy and student at the City of Bristol college when he was convicted of plotting to blow himself up using a home-made suicide vest in 2009.

The son of an NHS consultant converted to Islam in 2006 and became radicalised after watching extreme material online.

Members of the Muslim community in Bristol alerted police and he was arrested at his home in Westbury-on-Trym.

Sentenced to life in prison he acknowledged that he was brainwashed by the videos he had seen on the internet.

""Trust your instincts and help us prevent tragedies" Chief Inspector Patrick McGowan

The police urge communities and families to contact them about anyone they feel may be vulnerable. 

Chief Inspector McGowan says "Our top priority is to safeguard those who are at risk of radicialisation and we need the public's help in achieving this."

He added that this includes anyone who is showing signs of becoming radicalised, who may have returned to the UK from Syria or may be planning to go to Syria or another conflict zone.

For families, left to pick up the pieces after a relative leaves for Syria, the impact can be devastating says Inspector Pearson.

If you see or hear something that could be terrorist-related call the Anti-Terrorist Hotline on 0800 789 321.