Counter-terrorism bosses in the region say they “are not looking to criminalise” those who plan to go and take part in the country’s civil war and instead want to “prevent unnecessary tragedies”.
Some 500 Britons have travelled to Syria and Iraq to take up arms with Islamic State (IS) and David Cameron said this month that British jihadists who travel to these countries will be barred from returning for at least two years to prevent terror attacks.
Assistant Chief Constable Geoff Dodd of West Yorkshire Police, lead for the North East Counter Terrorism Unit, has appealed for the loved ones of potential jihadists to call police so they can help stop them going out in the first place. The case of a 17-year-old girl from West Yorkshire, who was arrested at Heathrow in January along with another teenager from London as they tried to board a flight to Istanbul, is seen as a “success story” for this approach. Officers spent five days quizzing the girls before releasing them without charge.
Speaking about the case, Mr Dodd said: “There was a vulnerability to that young woman as a consequence of what she was thinking and reading and communicating with other people and we were able to help her. Her life is no longer at risk in the way it was.”
He added: “If people start talking about ‘I am going over to Syria, I am going to go over and fight’, which ever side they are going to go onto, that is an exceptionally dangerous activity for lots of reasons.
“Helping that individual understand those dangers, and the threat that is posed to that individual, we would want to try and help. I am not talking about arresting, I am talking about trying to help and safeguard that individual.”
It was reported this week that two British jihadists were killed by US drone strikes while fighting with ISIS militants in Syria. And the country’s most senior counter terrorism officer has said that the UK will be at risk of attacks from Islamist jihadists for “many years to come” regardless of what happens in Syria and Iraq as the ideology of terror spreads.
Measures announced by the Home Secretary this week could mean schools, prisons and councils will be required by law to put in place measures to stop would-be extremists from being drawn into terrorism,
A statutory duty will be placed on organisations such as colleges, universities, the police and probation providers to help deter radicalisation and, where organisations fail, ministers will be able to issue court-enforced directions to them. The move is part of a package of changes in the new Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill designed to tighten up protections in the UK, which was due to be introduced to Parliament today.
Today in Yorkshire and the North East, counter-terrorism officials will be visiting colleges, universities and community centres to increase awareness about the risks of radicalisation.
Detective Superintendent Mick Hunter, regional prevent co-ordinator for police in the North East and Yorkshire, said: “On a daily basis, Prevent officers work very hard with all sections of the community to strengthen their resilience to negative influences.
“This week we are stepping up our engagement activity further, to try and increase public awareness about the risks of radicalisation and what we can do to help.”