Young Muslims 'are turning to extremism'

Extremists are winning the battle for the hearts and minds of Britain's young Muslims, a disturbing police report warns.

Young Muslim boys hold placards demanding 'Justice for Muslins' : Young Muslims 'are turning to extremism'

Young Muslim boys are seen at a demonstration in London

Increasing numbers have become so alienated from mainstream society that they could even lend their support to jihadi terrorism, the study claims.

While most reject violence, many distrust police and are reluctant to inform on extremists.

The report was commissioned by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) after last year's failed bomb attacks in London's West End and at Glasgow Airport. It is to be discussed at Acpo's annual conference this week.

In the most comprehensive research of its kind to date, Prof Martin Innes, of the Universities' Police Science Institute in Cardiff, led a team of researchers which carried out face-to-face and telephone interviews with more than 600 Muslims in London, Birmingham and Oldham.

They found that the radicalisation of young British Muslims was more widespread than previously feared, with "a disturbing proportion" expressing support for extremist elements.

The report, which is being distributed among senior officers, Whitehall officials and ministers, finds that:

• Anger and disaffection are "widespread in sections of Muslim youth".

• There is tacit support for extremist violence within sections of the Muslim community.

• Police need to do more to win the trust of Muslim communities if they are to tackle radicalisation.

• Many Muslims distrust police and are reluctant to inform on extremists, preferring to deal with problems inside their communities.

The study, entitled Hearts and Minds and Eyes and Ears: Reducing Radicalisation Risks Through Reassurance Orientated Policing, warns that "the threat to the UK from jihadist terrorism may increase in the future".

It concludes: "Increasing numbers of young Muslim people are becoming sufficiently disaffected with their lives in liberal-democratic-capitalist societies that they might be willing to support violent terrorism to articulate their disillusionment and disengagement."

Across Britain, the security services have said they are tracking 2,000 individuals suspected of having links to terrorism, investigating 200 networks and monitoring 30 plots.

Professor Innes's report warns that Islamist terror groups are increasingly operating away from traditional Muslim areas, and are seeking new ways to radicalise vulnerable young people. It comes as police investigate alleged terror plots in Exeter and Bristol.

Anti-terrorism detectives have remarked on the speed with which young people have been converted to extremism and become involved in operations.

The report says: "Bringing people through faster might be a way of trying to limit the risks of detection prior to going operational. So whereas previously the al-Qa'eda network challenged state security services through using a small select cadre of skilled operatives, they might equally stretch capacity by mounting a larger number of less sophisticated attacks."

A poll last year by Populus found that 13 per cent of Muslims aged 16 to 24 "admire organisations like al-Qa'eda that are prepared to fight the West".

Ministers have announced a £12.5 million "deradicalisation" programme aimed at tackling Islamist extremism at local level.

But Prof Innes says that in order for this strategy to succeed, police will first have to overcome widespread Muslim distrust.

He told The Telegraph: "Within Muslim communities there are those people completely against the means and aims of terrorism, and there are those in favour.

"Then there is a disturbing proportion of people in the middle whose ideas, beliefs and support for extremism will shift depending on what's happening around them, what al-Qa'eda and their like are doing, and what the police are doing."

The Cardiff team found that a growing generation gap in Muslim communities was making it harder for elders to maintain control over disenchanted youngsters.

Prof Innes said that extremists seeking to radicalise young Muslims could exploit local issues such as poor housing, as well as international events such as the invasion of Iraq.

The report says that "neighbourhood policing" – the increased use of foot patrols introduced by the Home Office as a way to tackle crime – could help in the fight against terrorism.

An Acpo spokesman said: "Among certain groups, low trust of the police inhibits people from coming forward to give information that may stop someone from heading towards radicalisation. Neighbourhood policing is crucial."

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