In a confidential report, Young Muslims and Extremism, prepared jointly by the Home and Foreign offices in mid-2004 and presented to Prime Minister Tony Blair, we learn something about the inner thinking of the British government. Leaked to the Sunday Times of London, the report is now available in four parts in .pdf format at the newspaper's site.
Its goal is "to encourage moderate Muslim opinion to the detriment of extremism" and to that end proposes an "Operation Contest." Along the way, it contains much of interest in it, including these points:
"A number of extremist groups are actively recruiting young British Muslims" (pdf 1, p. 10).
These "extremist recruiters" are "circulating among university-based religious or ethnic societies" (pdf 1, p. 5; pdf 2, p. 10).
"By and large, most young extremists fall into one of two groups: well-educated undergraduates or with degrees and technical professional qualifications in engineering or IT; or under-achievers with few or no qualifications, and often a criminal background" (pdf 2, p. 9).
"Often disaffected lone individuals unable to fit into their community, will be attracted to university clubs based on ethnicity or religion, or be drawn to Mosques or preaching groups in prison through a sense of disillusionment with their current existence" (pdf 2, p. 12).
Islamist terrorists include "a significant number" who come from "liberal, non-religious Muslim backgrounds" or who converted to Islam in adulthood (pdf 2, p. 9).
The report's policy recommendations are also interesting, such as the one (from pdf 1, p. 8) urging the importance "to persuade the public and the media that Muslims are not the enemy within." It goes on to propose that the government "needs to look for opportunities to highlight Muslim success stories and examples of Muslim contributions to society at national and local level."
Besides that, "the term 'Islamic fundamentalism' is unhelpful and should be avoided, because some perfectly moderate Muslims are likely to perceive it as a negative comment on their own approach to their faith" (pdf 2, p. 2).
In general, the authors of Young Muslims and Extremism are too politically worried to understand the phenomenon they are contending with. Take the matter of Muslim individuals and organizations: if they are willing to mouth certain pieties, and not overtly challenge the existing order, that is good enough to consider them moderate. My particular favorite "moderate Muslim" is Hamza Yusuf (pdf 1, p. 13), for he explicitly has denied this appellation, as I documented on my weblog at "Hamza Yusuf Fails My 'Test'."
They assert as fact points that need thoughtful consideration: "A strong Muslim identity and strict adherence to traditional Muslim teachings are not in themselves problematic or incompatible with Britishness" (pdf 1, p. 9). One could fill a long and substantial seminar on this topic.
The point that most of all interested me, however, in reading Young Muslims and Extremism is where it draws on MI5 information to make this astonishing statement:
Intelligence indicates that the number of British Muslims actively engaged in terrorist activity, whether at home or abroad or supporting such activity, is extremely small and estimated at less than 1% (pdf 2, p. 9).
If one accepts the report's estimate (pdf 2, p. 5) that the Muslim population of Great Britain numbers 1.6 million, then up to 16,000 "British Muslims actively engaged in terrorist activity."
"Extremely small"? Excuse me, but that number strikes me as an extremely large.
That the British authorities do not recognize that they should worry about thousands of terrorists in their midst is reason to worry what planet they inhabit. Their waffling, myopia, and general incompetence make one despair for their country.
Leaked No 10 dossier reveals Al-Qaeda's British recruits Robert Winnett and David Leppard Read the document: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4
AL-QAEDA is secretly recruiting affluent, middle-class Muslims in British universities and colleges to carry out terrorist attacks in this country, leaked Whitehall documents reveal.
A network of "extremist recruiters" is circulating on campuses targeting people with "technical and professional qualifications", particularly engineering and IT degrees.
Yesterday it emerged that last week's London bombings were a sophisticated attack with all the devices detonating on the Underground within 50 seconds of each other. The police believe those behind the outrage may be home-grown British terrorists with no criminal backgrounds and possessing technical expertise.
A joint Home Office and Foreign Office dossier — Young Muslims and Extremism — prepared for the prime minister last year, said Britain might now be harbouring thousands of Al-Qaeda sympathisers.
Lord Stevens, the former Metropolitan police chief, revealed separately last night that up to 3,000 British-born or British-based people had passed through Osama Bin Laden's training camps.
The Whitehall dossier, ordered by Tony Blair following last year's train bombings in Madrid, says: "Extremists are known to target schools and colleges where young people may be very inquisitive but less challenging and more susceptible to extremist reasoning/ arguments."
The confidential assessment, covering more than 100 pages of letters, papers and other documents, forms the basis of the government's counter-terrorism strategy, codenamed Operation Contest.
It paints a chilling picture of the scale of the task in tackling terrorism. Drawing on information from MI5, it concludes: "Intelligence indicates that the number of British Muslims actively engaged in terrorist activity, whether at home or abroad or supporting such activity, is extremely small and estimated at less than 1%."
This equates to fewer than 16,000 potential terrorists and supporters out of a Muslim population of almost 1.6m.
The dossier also estimates that 10,000 have attended extremist conferences. The security services believe that the number who are prepared to commit terrorist attacks may run into hundreds.
Most of the Al-Qaeda recruits tend to be loners "attracted to university clubs based on ethnicity or religion" because of "disillusionment with their current existence". British-based terrorists are made up of different ethnic groups, according to the documents.
"They range from foreign nationals now naturalised and resident in the UK, arriving mainly from north Africa and the Middle East, to second and third generation British citizens whose forebears mainly originate from Pakistan or Kashmir.
"In addition . . . a significant number come from liberal, non-religious Muslim backgrounds or (are) only converted to Islam in adulthood. These converts include white British nationals and those of West Indian extraction."
The Iraq war is identified by the dossier as a key cause of young Britons turning to terrorism. The analysis says: "It seems that a particularly strong cause of disillusionment among Muslims, including young Muslims, is a perceived ‘double standard' in the foreign policy of western governments, in particular Britain and the US.
"The perception is that passive ‘oppression', as demonstrated in British foreign policy, eg non-action on Kashmir and Chechnya, has given way to ‘active oppression'. The war on terror, and in Iraq and Afghanistan, are all seen by a section of British Muslims as having been acts against Islam."
In an interview yesterday, Blair denied that the London terrorist attacks were a direct result of British involvement in the Iraq war. He said Russia had suffered terrorism with the Beslan school massacre despite its opposition to the war, and terrorists were planning further attacks on Spain even after the pro-war government was voted out.
"September 11 happened before Iraq, before Afghanistan, before any of these issues and that was the worst terrorist atrocity of all," he said.
However, the analysis prepared for Blair identified Iraq as a "recruiting sergeant" for extremism.
The Sunday Times has learnt that Britain is negotiating with Australia to hand over military command of southern Iraq to release British troops for redeployment in Afghanistan.
The plan behind Operation Contest has been to win over Muslim "hearts and minds" with policy initiatives including anti-religious discrimination laws. A meeting of Contest officials this week is expected to consider a radical overhaul of the strategy following the London attacks.
Stevens said last night at least eight attacks aimed at civilian targets on the British mainland had been foiled in the past five years and that none had been planned by the same gang.
The former Scotland Yard chief, who retired earlier this year, said that on one weekend more than 1,000 undercover officers had been deployed, monitoring a group of suspected terrorists.
He said that he believed last week's attackers were almost certainly British-born, "brought up here and totally aware of British life and values".
"There's a sufficient number of people in this country willing to be Islamic terrorists that they don't have to be drafted in from abroad," he said
LORD STEVENS, the former Metropolitan police chief who retired earlier this year, said last night that the London bombings were almost certainly masterminded by British-born terrorists.
He said last week's bombers would not fit the stereotype of a fanatic from a village in Afghanistan or Algeria.
"They will be apparently ordinary British citizens; young men conservatively and cleanly dressed and probably with some higher education. Highly computer literate, they will have used the internet to research explosives. They are painstaking, cautious, clever and very sophisticated."
Stevens said intelligence officers believed that up to 3,000 British-born or British-based people had passed through Osama Bin Laden's training camps, some of whom returned home to become potential Islamic terrorists.
He said at least eight other separate terrorist attacks had been foiled in the past five years. At times up to 1,000 undercover officers had been working on one anti-terrorist operation.
Sometimes, for no apparent reason, someone believed to be planning an attack would simply disappear from the scene.
"Why? Where did they go? What happened? We might never find out. It could be incredibly draining," he wrote in a column in the News of the World.
"It's important to realise that there are not just the four terrorists who planted the bombs in this cell. There will be a support network of some sort behind them. They will have helped house and conceal the bombers, covered their tracks, helped in the manufacturing of the devices and in the repeated reconnaissance of the targets."
The prime minister was warned last year that the war in Iraq might be responsible for thousands of young British Muslims turning to extremism.
The grim warning was contained in a personal briefing paper on "Young Muslims and Extremism", which has been leaked to The Sunday Times.
The paper, part of a Whitehall-wide effort to combat home-grown terrorism, identifies the key grievances driving Muslims' militancy as anger at Tony Blair's decision to wage war in Iraq and resentment at the deprivation suffered by Muslim communities.
The research claims Al-Qaeda has "actively recruited" young Muslims in schools, universities and prisons. It reveals that the authorities have built up a clear picture of the "terrorist career path", which may be behind last week's attacks.
Sir John Gieve, permanent secretary at the Home Office, summarises two distinct types of terrorist in a letter to Sir Andrew Turnbull, outgoing head of the civil service.
"British Muslims who are most at risk of being drawn into extremism and terrorism fall into two groups: a) well educated, with degrees or technical/professional qualifications, typically targeted by extremist recruiters and organisations circulating on campuses; b) underachievers with few or no qualifications and often a non-terrorist criminal background — sometimes drawn to mosques where they may be targeted by extremist preachers and in other cases radicalised while in prison. "
Saajid Badat, a former Gloucester grammar school pupil who planned to detonate a shoe bomb on an aeroplane, fits the description of the highly educated terrorist. He was "radicalised" while living as a student in London and travelled to Afghanistan to train as a terrorist. He was convicted of terrorism offences earlier this year.
Members of the second group of potential terrorists are poorer and far less educated. They are "targeted by extremist preachers" and are often drawn in by a charismatic person.
"Such individuals are encouraged to maintain a low profile for operational purposes and do not develop the network of associates or political doctrines common to many other extremist Islamists," states the paper. Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber who was caught in 2001 on a flight to America, is in this group.
The report says potential terrorists range from "foreign nationals naturalised and resident in the UK mainly from north Africa and the Middle East" to "second and third generation British citizens whose forebears mainly originate from Pakistan or Kashmir".
It also identifies a group from "liberal, non-religious Muslim backgrounds" who converted to Islam in adulthood: "These converts include white British nationals and those of West Indian extraction."
The paper added that some young Muslims felt "isolated and alienated" as a result of "perceived Islamophobia" and they perceived "bias" in the way new counter-terrorism powers were being used by the police to stop, detain and arrest people.
Work has been carried out across Whitehall studying the socioeconomic disadvantage which blights Muslim communities. According to the data, Muslims are three times more likely to be unemployed than the population as a whole; 52% of them are economically inactive (the highest of any faith group) and 16% have never worked or are long-term unemployed. This is blamed on a lack of education: 43% of Muslims have no qualifications.
An analysis carried out by an official at the Department for Work and Pensions, and revealed in a related document, said: "The key to engaging this group (Muslims) in a positive way is, obviously, by reducing discrimination and promoting integration." Officials also judged that some Muslims had difficulty in reconciling their "Islamic identity" to living in a multicultural society and regarded mainstream Muslim organisations as "sell-outs".
The analysis of Muslim extremism was intended to find ways of averting terrorism and officials drew up a "hearts and minds strategy" designed to win over disaffected Muslims.
In a letter to senior Whitehall officials, first highlighted by The Sunday Times last year Turnbull, the cabinet secretary, wrote: "The first pillar of the government's counter-terrorism strategy, Contest, is prevention."
Gieve replied in a letter marked "restricted policy": "We need . . . to address the roots of the problem which include discrimination, disadvantage and exclusion."
The plan included giving Muslims a greater role in public life, new legal rights and schemes targeted to help them out of poverty. Religious anti-discrimination laws have since been introduced, as have special Islamic mortgages and government-backed accreditation schemes for imams.
However, when the bombs exploded last Thursday the first pillar of the government's terrorism plan collapsed. Officials are now wondering whether Operation Contest can be revived and what can be done to stop more young Muslims becoming the enemy within.