BBC Inside Out aired a special episode on the 4th of September on the effects that recent UK terror attacks have had on us all. As the only Muslim 7/7 survivor, I was invited onto the show to tell my story, and explain how I have now dedicated my life to fighting online extremism.
As part of an exclusive YouGov poll ran for BBC Inside Out, the people of England were asked if they thought the terrorism threat was higher in 2017 than ever before. 90% said yes. BBC highlighted that actually, deaths from terrorism were falling, with 90 killed between 2000-2015 vs. over 1,000 from 1985-1999. This is of little condolence to the victims of recent attacks, and for the public at large due to the fear and xenophobia these attacks have instilled.
20% of people from the Midlands area responded to the YouGov poll saying that they were more afraid at large events and on public transport, 21% said they are less likely to attend any events at a concert hall or stadium, and 29% said they feel less safe in public areas.
Manchester Arena attack survivor, Kim Dick, told BBC that when she travelled to London she suffered from panic attacks on transport, terrified of everyone she saw with a backpack. BBC reporter Holly Jones, who narrowly missed becoming a fatal victim of the London Bridge attack, described her past self as sociable, but claims now she is anxious, stressed and more suspicious of other people.
I can empathise with this anxiety and fear, as I told BBC Inside Out: “each time an attack happens I relive the experience. You watch the videos of what people have filmed, you see the people running and the screams, and it takes me right back to 7/7.”
The exclusive poll also revealed that 52% of people across England, but only 44% of Londoners, agree that the security services should be given more powers to defeat terrorism, even if this meant sacrifices to our personal privacy. As I told BBC, I do not believe that this is the most effective way to defeating terrorism:
“We need a bottom-up approach. Those who are being radicalised are being brainwashed, so we need to change those hearts, and change those minds… we cannot put the reliance on police solely to defeat terrorism, as ultimately, this will not change those hearts and minds.”
Pioneering this bottom-up approach to fighting terrorism, our charity JAN Trust launched our award winning Web Guardians™ programme, which educates mothers on preventing and tackling online extremism with their children and loved ones.
It is likely that all of the recent attackers, both Muslim extremists and far-right extremists, were exposed to online propaganda and communication with recruiters that served to radicalise them. Richard Walton, former Head of Counter-Terrorism Command within the Metropolitan Police, told BBC: “it is inconceivable that there wasn’t a use of social media apps to connect those who carried out these attacks with terrorists from the Islamic State.”
BBC reporters posed as young British Muslims interested in joining jihad in Syria, and were met with support from IS recruiters who directed them to encrypted messaging services. From there they provided a link on the dark web to an online terrorist manual which detailed how to use a vehicle to carry out an attack, and what body parts to target when using a knife to inflict fatal injuries. IS recruiters suggested the young boy conduct a lone wolf attack and ‘kill normal people’ from within the UK, and even suggested Westminster and London Bridge as key targets as they were ‘crowded with disbelievers and civilians’, providing evidence that the 2017 attacks were planned by online ISIS recruiters.
This is hard evidence that the threat of online radicalisation is real and dangerous. It was clear to me that such a huge threat cannot go on being ignored.
We have won many awards and for our Web Guardians™ programme, which seeks to empower women to be at the frontlines of the fight against extremism from within their own homes, but we need support to continue this vitally needed work. Support would mean the programme can continue to change the hearts and minds of potential terrorists and innocent lives can be saved.