Greater levels of sensitivity and understanding must be shown towards people who are considering telling the authorities of their fears that a friend or family member has been radicalised, according to a landmark study by Yorkshire academics.
A report into the barriers stopping people from reporting family and friends who they suspect of being drawn into extremism has been published by the University of Huddersfield in a bid to fill a “critical blind spot” in counter-terrorism efforts.
The university’s experts say friends and family of potential terrorists can often provide advance warnings that prevent atrocities like the recent attacks on Manchester and London and the failed Parsons Green bomb attempt.
Paul Thomas, Professor of Youth and Policy at the university, said very little was known about the experiences of these “intimates” who could provide the first line of defence against acts of violent extremism.
They spoke to 48 members of Muslim and marginalised white communities in West Yorkshire and Manchester about how they would act if they knew a loved one was in danger of becoming a terrorist.
The vast majority would try and dissuade the person themselves before approaching the police, and if they did report would prefer to do it face-to-face with local police rather than a counter-terrorism unit or a hotline.
The study said: “Many identified concerns about the negative, collective impacts of reporting, including the different forms of anticipated or experienced backlash against those concerned.”
Among the suggestions made in the report are making the reporting process more personal and offering more support to those who make contact.
Professor Thomas said: “It almost like safeguarding, so that people can share concerns and that there will be a response that helps the people they are concerned about, rather than an immediate criminal investigation, particularly if it is further down the line that a terrorist act is going to happen.
“It is important there is a response that’s more about welfare, safeguarding and counselling for both the person and the people doing the reporting.”
In 2015, Talha Asmal, from Dewsbury, described an “ordinary Yorkshire lad”, became the youngest Briton to die in a suicide bombing in an attack which killed 11 Iraqis.
His family said his “tender years and naivety” were exploited by extremists linked to so-called Islamic State who “engaged in a process of deliberate and calculated grooming of him”.
Just a few days later, three sisters from Bradford and their young children disappeared following a religious pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia and were feared to have travelled to war-torn Syria.
Detective Superintendent Nik Adams, from the North East CTU said “This has been a comprehensive research project and its findings will inform both the UK Counter Terrorism policing network and local policing colleagues.
“We continue to appeal to anyone who has concerns about a friend or loved one becoming radicalised to share their concerns.
“The earlier we can intervene to safeguard vulnerable people the more chance we have, along with our partners, of preventing someone being drawn into terrorism.”
Separately, online video giant YouTube was condemned today for failing to take down extremist content including films praising Adolf Hitler and Taliban propaganda.
An extensive study of Islamist and far-right extremist material shared on the website found more than 120 videos were not removed even after they had been flagged to the site’s administrators.
Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the influential Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said it was “simply unacceptable” that some content remained live weeks after being reported.
Detectives were yesterday granted more time to question two young men held in raids over the Parsons Green terror attack.
An 18-year-old man and a 21-year-old, identified by his employers as Yahyah Farroukh, were arrested on Saturday over Friday morning’s bomb attack on a London Underground train.
Scotland Yard said magistrates had granted warrants allowing the 18-year-old to be held until Saturday September 23, and Farroukh until Thursday September 21.