The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Rev Nick Baines, has called for society to offer “our disillusioned young people an alternative world view and lifestyle that captures the imagination, fires up vision and inspires self-sacrifice”.
He spoke amid a growing debate in Yorkshire and nationwide on how to combat the growing threat of young men being attracted to the poisonous ideology of so-called ‘Islamic State’ (IS) after a 17-year-old from Dewsbury who travelled to Syria became the country’s youngest ever suicide bomber.
The Yorkshire Post can reveal that in the last financial year, 256 people from Yorkshire and the North East have been referred to a Government scheme aimed at protecting the vulnerable from being drawn into terrorist activity.
Yesterday, solemn tributes were paid across the country to the 30 Britons murdered in last week’s Tunisian beach massacre, including four from Yorkshire.
Leeds couple Christopher and Sharon Bell, whose bodies were flown home yesterday, were among those killed by Tunisian gunman Seifeddine Rezgu in a massacre later claimed by IS.
Writing in this newspaper ahead of the tenth anniversary of the 7/7 attacks on London in 2005, carried out by four young men from West Yorkshire, the Rev Baines said many of those who have left the UK to join ‘so-called Islamic State’ are “extremely well-educated and fully cognisant of what they are heading off to”.
He said: “Education is not the issue. Information is not lacking. What perhaps is lacking is inspiration to see life and death here as in any way valuable or attractive.
“I don’t say this lightly, and I certainly don’t say it in defence of Islamic maniacs who are prepared to do unspeakable things to innocent men, women and children.
“But, if we are to begin to understand what attracts then drives (mainly) young men and women to leave behind a life of humdrum security for a (perhaps short) life of action, we must ask this question: how do we offer our disillusioned young people an alternative world view and lifestyle that captures the imagination, fires up vision and inspires self-sacrifice (in a non-mortal sense)?
“In one sense, none of this is new. Young people are always - and always have been - susceptible to alternative inspirations.
“But, our question in 2015 has to do with how we inspire young people to see value beyond celebrity and consumerism in a world short on vision and long on entertainment.”
Recent high-profile cases where young British Muslims have apparently fled the UK to join IS have sparked renewed scrutiny of the Government’s Prevent strategy, launched nationally in 2007 to stop people being drawn into violent extremism.
Talha Asmal, 17, from Dewsbury, is thought to have flown to Syria in March with another boy from the same town. Two months later he became Britain’s youngest ever suicide bomber after apparently blowing himself up in Iraq.
Days after this, it emerged that 12 members of the Dawood family from Bradford, including nine children, had also travelled to the war-torn country after disappearing during an Islamic pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.
The Channel scheme, where vulnerable people deemed at risk of being drawn into terrorism are offered guidance and support, has seen a large rise in referrals every year since being launched as a pilot in 2007. A total of 1,281 people were referred in 2013/14 nationwide, compared with 748 the previous year.
The figure of 256 people in Yorkshire and the North East for 2014/15 is the first time a total has been provided for the region. Counter-terrorism officials would not provide further details about the number of referrals made in previous years.
The Yorkshire Post reported in May that around 15 to 20 children from Leeds alone are referred each year to Channel, but many more children who are potentially at risk are not being offered such support because their behaviour is not being recognised.
The 256 total is from Yorkshire’s four police force areas and Northumbria, Cleveland and Durham, covered by the North East Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU). Those referred to the scheme have access to health or education services, guidance and mentoring to increase their understanding of violent ideologies.
Detective Superintendent Michael Hunter, Regional Prevent Co-ordinator, said “Working with partners the North East CTU is committed to supporting the Channel process. Each case is handled separately.
“Communities and partners across the region continue to work together to develop their understanding and take practical steps to jointly safeguarding vulnerable people who may be at risk of being drawn into terrorism.”