Exclusive: Sharp increase in under-18s ‘at risk’ of being radicalised into jihadists

Government scheme identifies 940 children in danger of being drawn into violent extremism

The number of children and vulnerable adults identified as potential violent extremists by a controversial Government anti-radicalisation initiative has surged by more than 25 per cent in the past year, The Independent can reveal.

Since last April at least 940 people have been referred for assessment under the Channel programme  because of concerns they are at risk of being drawn into terrorism, according to official figures.

The numbers, disclosed by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) via a Freedom of Information request, include 467 under-18s – representing more than a third of all juvenile referrals since the scheme, which is primarily tasked with addressing Islamic extremism, was launched in 2007.

The sharp increase is likely to cause further concern in Muslim communities already angered by the London Mayor Boris Johnson’s recent comments calling for children deemed to be at risk of being radicalised by their parents to be taken into care.

Mr Johnson had called for the law to be changed “so that children who are being turned into potential killers or suicide bombers can be removed into care – for their own safety and for the safety of the public”. Boris Johnson had called for the law to be changed 'so that children who are being turned into potential killers or suicide bombers can be removed into care – for their own safety and for the safety of the public' Boris Johnson had called for the law to be changed 'so that children who are being turned into potential killers or suicide bombers can be removed into care – for their own safety and for the safety of the public'

His remarks sparked outrage among many British Muslims, with some taking to Twitter using the hashtag #SignsOfARadicalBaby to lampoon the mayor’s views.

Acpo had previously published details of the total number of referrals up to March last year, but the new figures offer a more detailed breakdown of cases by age, as well as providing an updated total to the end of January.

According to the figures, 153 children under 11, another 690 aged 12-15, and 554 aged 16-17 have been referred since 2007. A further 2,196 adults have also been assessed. The total of 940 so far for 2013-14 marks an increase of just over a quarter on 748 cases in 2012-13.

The Government’s guide for those tasked with implementing Channel describes it as an early intervention process to safeguard children and adults from being drawn into terrorism-related activity.

The programme is co-ordinated by the police but draws on input from across a spectrum of public services, including children’s and adult welfare centres, schools and healthcare providers.

Individuals are assessed by a multi-agency panel to identify an appropriate “support package” for their requirements. But many Muslims complain that the programme amounts to community surveillance.

Jahangir Mohammed, the co-author of a report critical of the Government’s wider Prevent counter-terrorism strategy, published by the civil liberties campaign group Cage, said: “These figures show that the net of those considered susceptible to radicalism and potentially terrorism is being cast to pick up more and more people.

“The idea that there are 843 people under the age of 15 that are potential terrorists is simply ludicrous. The figures are a sign of a failed policy. There is an urgent need for a review of the nature of referrals and public scrutiny of how the policy is operating.”

Acpo reports that Channel activity primarily takes place in Muslim communities because Islamic-inspired terrorists currently pose the greatest threat to the UK.

Not all of those referred are deemed to require intervention. Last year Acpo said about 22 per cent of cases were assessed to be vulnerable to being drawn towards terrorism and received further support.A Home Office spokesman said a notable proportion of individuals receiving support were referred because they were at risk of far-right extremism.

In numbers:

940 people referred to Channel programme as potential violent extremists since last April

467 of those were under 18

153 were under 11

748 cases reported in 2012/2013

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