Young schoolboy tells London classmates he supports Isis as gory propaganda videos reach children

Prevent strategy says nine-year-old no longer searches for videos after year of counselling

Lizzie Dearden
Tuesday 14 February 2017 16:58
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Haaruun was nine years old when he stood up in class and said he supported Isis.

He had found and watched gory Isis execution videos after searching for news coverage of the Paris attacks, reaching the group’s propaganda after a series of news websites.

“It led me to this one that had brutal executions and them burning people,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“It just showed them lighting them on fire. The people chained up, lighting them on fire and then they burned them.”

Lawyer questions Prevent

Haaruun, now 10, was referred to the Government’s Prevent counter-extremism programme, which has now finished its work with the boy and his family in London.

His caseworker, Mariam, told the BBC he had played a violent video game formulated by Isis supporters to simulate a terror attack on an airport, as well as researching the group’s ideology and leadership structure.

Haaruun accessed the videos on the family computer when the house was empty, and also managed to watch footage in a school classroom with other pupils.

After a year of counselling, and efforts to stop bullying that isolated the boy at school, Haaruun has stopped searching for the videos.

"He is a vulnerable young man who's seeing things, forming opinions,” said Mariam. “How that would have developed without Prevent, we can't predict that.

"We're not saying he's going to take a bomb and blow anyone up but it's about minimising those risks."

Isis recruiters are known to trawl online chatrooms and social networks to find people deemed susceptible to radicalisation, either urging targets to join the so-called Islamic State in Iraq or Syria or commit attacks in their home countries.

Haaruun’s case is one of more than 1,000 handled by Prevent since 2012, including concerns over Islamist and far-right extremism.

Around 60 children are referred to the programme every week, Government figures revealed in December, with minors making up just under half of referrals.

Prevent has been credited with helping to disrupt more than 150 attempted journeys to war zones in Iraq and Syria, but it has repeatedly come under fire, with critics labelling it heavy-handed and "toxic", and there have been calls for it to be independently reviewed.

It is one of several agencies attempting to counter the influence of Isis’ multi-faceted propaganda operation in the UK as jihadis continue to use videos, magazines, websites and social networks to gather followers.

A new report released on Tuesday warned that the group’s propaganda will continue to radicalise followers and inspire terror attacks long after its self-declared caliphate has been destroyed.

The terrorist group is losing swathes of territory in its Iraqi stronghold of Mosul as enemy forces advance on its de-facto capital of Raqqa in Syria, but claimed media can be “more potent than atomic bombs” in its battle against the West.

Research by King’s College London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) found that although Isis was likely to suffer a military defeat, its leaders were making contingency plans to ensure the group’s continued ability to instruct and inspire jihadis online.

“The caliphate idea will exist long beyond its proto-state,” the report said. “If compelled to, the group’s true believers will simply retreat into the virtual world, where they will use the vast archive of propaganda assembled by the group over these past few years to keep themselves buoyant with nostalgia.

“In years to come, this resilience will enable it to perpetuate – and perhaps worsen – the terrorist menace it already presents.”

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