December 19, 2013
Young urban gang members have been targeted by charismatic preachers for conversion to a radical form of Islam, in a development not being properly addressed by the Government’s security programme, community leaders claimed in the wake of the Woolwich trial.
The case of two black Muslim converts, both from criminal backgrounds and with a highly tuned sense of grievance, has highlighted concerns that efforts to prevent radicals are focused too much on universities and so-called middle-class converts.
Michael Adebowale was a member of a gang at the time of his conversion at the age of 17, police confirmed, but his path to radicalisation remained unclear. MPs found that converts to Islam were at particular risk of radicalisation. In April, Richard Dart, a white security guard converted by Anjem Choudary – former leader of the now-banned al-Muhajiroun group – was jailed for six years for plotting to attack soldiers at Royal Wootton Bassett.
“In the urban environment, being Muslim carries a bit of street cred. It’s the urban religion of choice,” he said. “It’s about religion sticking two fingers up at the establishment. It’s an attractive mix. It validates criminality.”
“These kids’ constant experiences are of being victims, and then the radicalised movement comes along and offers them the opportunity to be heroic,” said Camilla Batmanghelidjh, the founder of Kids Company, which works with vulnerable children in the capital. “The radicalisers are identifying the most vulnerable kids… They’re showing them videos that are getting progressively worse, alleged atrocities by the British. Then they’re sending them to training camps abroad.”