British Jihadis: How Widespread Is UK Extremism?

With an estimated 500 UK Muslims fighting for groups like the Islamic State, Sky News looks at the root causes of extremism.

British Jihadis special report

In the wake of the beheading of British hostage David Haines, there is a renewed focus on the role of UK Muslims in the conflict in the Middle East and the apparently British fighter now earning notoriety as his suspected killer.

With an estimated 500 British Muslims fighting abroad with groups including Islamic State (IS), Sky News took an in-depth look at how widespread extremism is across the UK, and what its root causes are.

In Birmingham, we met Shahid Butt, who travelled abroad to fight in the 1990s, prompted by the realisation that Muslim civilians were suffering in Bosnia.

He says a similar sense of compassion drives many young Muslims to the Middle East, where the conflict in Syria – known to have already displaced more than nine million people – has inspired a strong desire to help fellow Muslims.

'British jihadists' video.
Experts estimate 500 British Muslims are fighting abroad

“I believe the media has mis-portrayed the whole situation. Anybody who goes to Syria is a mad, crazy, warmongering, bloodthirsty person,” said Mr Butt. “This is wrong.”

One young man in East London, who asked to remain anonymous, strongly condemned the acts of terrorist groups like IS (also known as ISIS), but said he would nevertheless like to go to Syria to help.

“Recently I have been thinking about going to Syria or Iraq on humanitarian purposes,” he said.

“I know when I’m going there, there’s a chance I might not come back. But I’m doing the right thing – that’s all that matters.”

The wrong portrayal of larger numbers of Muslims travelling to help as part of the terrorist threat is itself increasing the risk of radicalisation, says rapper Kash ‘The B.A.D.’ Choudhary.

David Haines
David Haines was captured and then beheaded

“James Foley, we have built up his character, it’s very sad what happened to him, we know his history, we know his name, he has got an identity, emotional attachment,” said Choudhary.

“But the Muslims in Iraq, Syrians, Afghans, Pakistanis, they are just left to die in shallow graves. So that huge sense of injustice definitely contributes to people being radicalised.”

Another young man could see how the desire to do something could also be exploited by extremist groups.

“As a Muslim, when another Muslim is being oppressed… I feel the same pain,” said the teenager, who did not want to be named.

Jihadist who appears in video with David Haines
Mr Haines’ killer is believed to be British

“I know there are other things I can do. Whereas another individual… they feel like nothing is being done… So they will buy that plane ticket to Syria or Iraq, and they will go and support an ideology, like ISIS, that they think are doing the right thing.”

But it is clear that there are a minority who are travelling to the Middle East attracted by violence.

Mr Butt said the extreme violence young people were exposed to through games like Grand Theft Auto, and the allure of gang culture, had a part to play.

“You’ve got an eight, nine, 10-year-old child playing those kind of violent games with heads blowing off, limbs blowing off. What kind of a mentality is that kid going to have? You’ve dehumanised that person.”


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