Leeds and Bradford to lead renewed drive against Islamist terror

Home Secretary Theresa May
Home Secretary Theresa May
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TWO Yorkshire cities have been picked out as priority areas in a renewed campaign against home-grown terrorism after the Government criticised “flawed” attempts to tackle the problem in the past.

Ministers have identified Leeds and Bradford as being among 25 areas where funding will be targeted. They hope to stop British Muslims being radicalised with a new focus on tackling pro-terrorist ideologies and on challenging extremism in schools, universities and on the internet.

Home Secretary Theresa May revealed that some of the money aimed at stopping radicalisation in the wake of the 2005 London bombings – where the four bombers were originally from West Yorkshire – had been given to “the very extremist organisations that [it] should have been confronting”.

That drew accusations from Labour of political “point-scoring”, but Mrs May said funding should be “rigorously prioritised and comprehensively audited”, saying money would only now be given to groups which support British values of democracy, human rights and equality and participate in society.

Programmes will also have to prove their effectiveness or lose their funding.

She also promised a fresh effort to tackle radicalisation at universities – including training staff to recognise the signs of radicalisation – and angered institutions by accusing them of being “complacent” about what has been happening on campuses.

She also outlined a more concerted attempt to stop hate preachers targeting inmates in prisons. Former Shadow Home Secretary David Davis, the Haltemprice and Howden MP, revealed he was recently sent a letter from a Muslim inmate at a high security prison revealing inappropriate teachings by a prison service imam and listing “equally inappropriate teachings” in five prisons.

Unveiling a review of the Government’s strategy to stop people turning to or supporting extremism – known as Prevent – Mrs May told MPs: “In trying to reach out to those at risk of radicalisation, funding sometimes even reached the very extremist organisations that Prevent should have been confronting. We will not make the same mistakes.”

She said the greatest threat to national security remained from the al-Qaida terror group, so the majority of effort will be devoted “to stopping people from joining or supporting al-Qaida, its affiliates, or like-minded groups”, but said the strategy would also tackle the “insidious impact” of non-violent extremism which could allow terrorists to prosper.

The risks of radicalisation to Muslims growing up in West Yorkshire was made clear after suicide bombers Mohammed Sidique Khan, 30, Shehzad Tanweer, 22, Habib Hussain, 18, all from Leeds, and Jermaine Lindsay, 19, originally from Huddersfield, killed 52 innocent victims when they blew themselves up on London’s public transport network on July 7, 2005.

According to the Government, nine per cent of people convicted for Islamist terrorist-related offences in the UK between 1999 and 2009 were from Yorkshire.

The new Prevent strategy comes after doubts over the effectiveness of the millions of pounds which has been spent since 2007, often raising questions over where the money ended up and sparking unproven claims that the programme was a ruse to spy on Muslims. The inclusion of Leeds and Bradford among the 25 priority areas – 16 of which are London boroughs – means they will get extra resources for programmes run under the Prevent strategy, which will get £36m from the Home Office this year and focus more on tackling extremist ideologies, including work with mainstream individuals to make sure moderate voices are heard.

West Yorkshire Chief Constable Sir Norman Bettison, spokesman on the Prevent strategy for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: “The strategy gives us the opportunity to build on this work and gain support from all our communities as we work alongside the Government, key partners and communities to prevent terrorism in all its forms.”

Counter-extremism think tank Quilliam said the new move was a step in the right direction but said it could be undermined by a “weak understanding of Islamism and extremism” and a “lack of clarity over how key parts of the strategy will be actually implemented on the ground”.

Labour Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said Mrs May was “in for a fall” if she thought she could solve the problem without making any mistakes.