Birmingham terror cell: a forlorn fight against extremism in the Balti Triangle
Birmingham’s bustling inner city suburbs of Sparkbrook and Sparkhill found itself on the front line of Britain’s war on terror even before the hijacked airliners smashed into the Twin Towers 12 years ago.
Police raided the “bomb factory” home of former waiter Moinul Abedin in January 2001 smashing what has since been described as the UK’s first home grown al-Qa’ida plot.
Since then the security forces have made repeated visits to the city’s celebrated Balti Triangle and its Pakistani, Kashmiri and Bangladeshi neighbourhoods to mounting alarm from community leaders. Each raid, with its hurtling convoys of police vehicles, screaming sirens and taped-off streets, brings a new sense of shock and dismay.
According to research by the Henry Jackson Society, more convicted British Islamic terrorists have come from Birmingham than anywhere else outside London. Others including five Britons convicted of plotting bomb attacks in Yemen in 1999 and the so-called Tipton Taliban also have links to the city.
In 2010 when the local community reacted angrily to the revelation that police had installed vehicle recognition surveillance cameras to track suspected terrorist activity in the Muslim areas off the busy Stratford Road corridor, the police justified their actions by pointing out that there had been 11 terrorist-related convictions in Sparkbrook and nearby Washwood Heath in the previous three years.
These included Parviz Khan from Alum Rock who was jailed for 14 years for plotting to kidnap and behead a British soldier.
The later conviction for publishing extremist texts of Ahmed Faraz, who operated the local Maktabah bookshop and whose customers included the July 7 bomb plot leader Mohammed Sidique Khan, further stoked official interest in the area – even after many of his charges were quashed by the Court of Appeal.
Terrorism experts now point that despite more than 15 convictions since 2001 nearly all have now returned to their communities after serving half of their relatively short sentences. But local people believe the ideas that underpin violent extremism do not come from within but outside.
Muhammad Suleman, 60, a former welder and community elder, believes young men, isolated from their families, frustrated by a lack of prospects and angered at Western military intervention in the Muslim world come under the influence of militant propaganda which contradicts the teachings of Islam. “A lot of young people don’t go to mosque. They learn on the internet. It is information you can’t hide and they make their own mind up,” he says
“Young people have no experience of life. They are emotional and get upset and may take the law into their own hands,” he adds. “Those who are criminals should be punished but don’t criminalise the whole community. You give the lead to all the racists and people who are anti-muslim,” he warns
At the UK Islamic Mission mosque on Stratford Road – one of 16 places of worship within the surrounding streets- more than 400 people cram into Friday prayers each week including the family of Ahmed Faraz. The Imam, Muhammad Sajjad, originally from North West Pakistan, said the mosques do their best to combat extremism. “Terrorists have no religion - a terrorist is a terrorist,” he says.
However, he is also aware his message competes against the background of international events.
“I know the people who are the victims of the drone attacks. They are very, very poor. They need education. If you give them money for education they become your friend. If you kill them they will become your enemy,” he says.
Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook CEO's one simple test for who to hire
Bali nine: Welcome to 'Execution Island' – the Indonesian holiday resort where foreigners are sent to die
'A girl is more responsible for rape than a boy': The statement that shocked the world... except India
The 'sex selfie stick' lets you FaceTime the inside of a vagina
Saudi Arabia executions now at 'unprecedented rate' after kingdom kills four more in two days
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'
Boris Nemtsov shot dead: Outspoken Putin critic who had expressed fears for his life is killed near the Kremlin
- 1 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 2 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
- 4 The 'sex selfie stick' lets you FaceTime the inside of a vagina
- 5 Why you're almost certainly more like your father than your mother