TWENTY eight young people from Brighton have been unmasked as aspiring jihadists who it was feared would carry out a Lee Rigby style terror attack on the city's streets.
The men and women, including five teenage girls who had converted to Islam, have been identified in a council-led serious case review into radicalisation in the city.
The review, part of which was leaked to the Sunday Times, said the authorities feared a knife or gun attack on the streets of Brighton.
Three of the group are known to have been killed in Syria but at least 23 could still be living in Brighton and Hove.
The review was launched in 2014 in the wake of the three Deghayes brothers, Amer, 22, Abdullah, 18, and Jaffar, 17, leaving their family home in Saltdean to fight in Syria.
Abdullah and Jaffar died in 2014, while Amer is still thought to be fighting in the war torn country.
The review identified 28 youngsters who plotted to go to Syria and join IS or related groups.
When published it is expected to reveal that court orders were used to prevent three of the aspiring terrorists, including one girl, leaving the country while five others, including the three Deghayes brothers, managed to reach Syria.
Ibrahim Kamara, 19, from Newmarket Road, Brighton is one of the others to have reached Syria. He was killed in 2014.
The fifth person is not known.
In the review officials warned of a possible Lee Rigby-style terror attack on the streets of Brighton.
They feared members of the group would take a knife and kill people or use guns against members of the public.
However, experts said the teenagers were unlikely to carry out a bomb attack as they would have been unable to get hold of explosives.
The review, which has included interviews with friends and relatives of the Deghayes, is attempting to establish whether lessons can be learned.
The Sunday Times said the review is expected to reveal a number of chances missed by police and social services over the past five years to prevent the radicalisation of the brothers.
Councillor Tom Bewick, chairman of the children, young people and skills committee, said the scale of radicalisation within the city’s youth was “alarming".
But he said the authorities were in a better position to tackle the problem than two years ago, especially since the appointment of a prevent officer in 2015.
He said: “The number is hard to comment on whether that is high or not because we don’t know what the figure is for other major cities.
“It is surprising I guess because we don’t have a particularly large Muslim community when you compare us to say Leicester or Bradford.
“We still have an ongoing issue in the city with young people who for all intents and purposes were brought up in Britain, raised and schooled here and yet have formed an attachment to a medieval death cult."
Graham Bartlett, chairman of Brighton and Hove Local Safeguarding who commissioned the serious case review, said it was drawing to a close but a draft report had not yet been produced.
He said media reports were merely conjecture.
FEARS YOUTHS MAY ATTACK PUBLIC ON THE STREETS
Narrative by Rachel Millard
WITH a population of under 300,000, a laid-back attitude and absence of any international political base or major transport network, Brighton seems an unlikely target for terrorism.
Yet counter-terror officials have raised fears that some among a group of 28 youngsters who plotted to go to Syria might also try and attack members of the public with pistols and knives on the streets of our city.
The concern has not gone away since it was first raised in 2014, with police and social services still trying to tackle the problem.
It is said three young people have been placed under court orders to stop them from leaving to go and fight in Syria. It is too late for brothers Jaffar and Abdullah Deghayes, aged 17 and 18, and their friend Ibrahim Kamara, 17, who were killed in the country in 2014 while fighting for Al-Qaeda affiliates against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
A third brother, Amer Deghayes, who grew up with them in seemingly peaceful Saltdean, is thought to still be fighting in Syria.
Experts have said there are no easy answers in trying to understand why this seaside town, better known for nightclubs, beaches and environmentalism, has also produced so many extremists.
Everything from propaganda, personal grievances, issues of identity, politics and plain old boredom have been put forward as reasons.
Dr Imran Awan, from Birmingham City University, said: “IS plays on those things so it can become a case of, OK there is nothing here for me, I would rather go and join a group like IS, as barbaric as they are. I believe that for some of them it is political but for others it is that sense of adrenaline rush or other grievances.”
As well as wanting to fight Assad, Amer Deghayes once cited his uncle Omar Deghayes’ treatment in Guantanamo Bay, where he was held by the US for more than five years, for his first disillusionment with life as a Muslim in the West.
Such reasoning has held little truth with his father, Abubaker Deghayes, who has called teens leaving for Syria “misguided” and pleaded with his son to come home.
Peter Kyle, MP for Hove, said many of the individuals mentioned in the council’s review “were also involved in other criminal activity and in some cases gangsterism or violence”, which could sometimes be traced back to chaotic childhoods marked by poverty or abuse.
He added: “For some reason people think that because we are a socially liberal city with a below-average level of ethnic diversity that we are not as susceptible to the dangers of religious militancy as other parts of the country.”
The deaths of the four Brighton residents has put the issue squarely on the council’s list of priorities. And the local authority responded by hiring a £44,000 a year anti-terrorism co-ordinator as well as bringing in experts.
Fiyaz Mughal, a radicalisation expert who started working with communities in Brighton in 2014, warned that year that residents could be “manipulated by ideology” as a result of perceived racism and prejudice.
“That is pretty important,” he said at the time.
“Research shows that if people do not feel comfortable, they do not feel part of where they are, that vulnerability can be exacerbated, can be manipulated by ideology.”
Tariq Jung, of the Brighton and Hove Muslim Forum, said he believed it was the internet that was a radicalising factor for youngsters in the city rather than figures on the ground.
He said: “The imams at the three mosques are bashing people, telling them about the silliness of these people who try to radicalise.
“They are taking every opportunity, whether it's attacks in Pakistan, in Kashmir, in France, in Brussels, that we are not about this, pointing to the scripture.
“The radicalisation that takes place is not from Brighton, the mosques are not doing it. If there was somebody who was doing it, they would be noticed, they would stand out, but that hasn’t happened.”
Ibrahim Kamara’s mother, Khadija, told The Argus yesterday that the risk of radicalisation remained because so did the factors behind it.
She cited anti-Muslim prejudice, violence in the Middle East and porous border controls.
She said: “My son went with a 15-year-old passport which wasn’t his.
“Nobody has dealt with this so teenagers could still be travelling on old passports that aren’t theirs.
“We have to go to the root cause of the problem, you can’t cure a headache until you know what is causing it.
“There are children with no sense of belonging and then someone comes to them and says ‘we love you, come and join us’.
“But how can you hold all Muslims responsible for what other Muslims are doing.”
MANY DIFFERENT PATHS TO RADICALISATION
Analysis by Dr Imran Awan
CLEARLY the number in Brighton will come as a shock to some.
But it does not come as a surprise to me as an academic looking at the way IS is working, especially on social media.
Recently, for example, IS had a video on YouTube called the one billion campaign and they encouraged people across the world to go and join them.
And through Twitter and Facebook, there is a huge amount of propaganda.
For a lot of young people it seems they are looking for an adrenaline rush or excitement – I call them thrill-seekers.
Some of them are living quite mundane, ordinary lives and IS offers them identity and belonging.
There are also grievances such as feeling alienated, isolated, being unemployed and other socio-economic factors.
IS plays on those things, so it can become a case of, OK there is nothing here for me, I would rather go and join a group like IS, as barbaric as they are.
I have spoken to people who fought in Afghanistan and came back and a lot of them said before they went they were sitting at home, unemployed, going through family break-up – all these types of things have a big impact.
But clearly we know from a lot of discussion that no person takes the same path to radicalisation.
I believe that for some of them it is political but for others it is that sense of adrenaline rush or other grievances.
I think it is important to look at the causes and to open up spaces for young people to air their grievances so they can be challenged. I think the Government’s Prevent strategy has stigmatised Muslims.
More needs to be done at grass-roots level to try and engage young people away from the dangers that IS and others pose and build a counter-narrative message.
- Dr Imran Awan, associate professor and deputy director of the centre for applied criminology at Birmingham City University, is an expert on radicalisation.