Portsmouth’s Jami Mosque and Islamic Centre was attended by the “al-Britaini Brigade Bangladeshi Bad Boys”, also known as the Pompey Lads. The group of six flew to Turkey in October last year and ended up fighting for the Islamic State (Isis). One is now in a British jail, four of them are dead – one confirmed killed on Tuesday and another is with the Isis offensive on the Syrian town of Kobani, where the remaining member of the group is presumed to still be fighting.The issue of why the lads are a product of Portsmouth is a topic of heated discussion within the city.
Here, 57% of children live in income-deprived families: the average estimated household income is £430 per week compared with the British average of £670.
The Bangladeshi community is singled out as enduring particular hardship with more than half of all households headed by a Pakistani or Bangladeshi experiencing poverty. In addition, a recent survey named Portsmouth as among the most stressful places to live.
One resident, retired restaurateur Muhammed Badruz Zaman, 78, who arrived in the city from Sylhet in Bangladesh, never thought he would witness the day that young Bangladeshis would voluntarily leave the UK to fight in the Middle East. He says: “It seems totally crazy, their brains have been washed to leave this safe city, and for what?”
Another man stated: “There’s not that much to do around here, they probably wanted excitement. Whatever they were after, it was nothing to do with Islam,”
But the equation that economic hardship and alienation equals radicalisation is not straightforward. Some of the Pompey six had reasonable jobs, after all. Other city residents believe that the animosity experienced by Muslim youths from the port’s far-right fraternity could have driven some to Syria.
Yet some say it has nothing to do with Portsmouth. Instead they point out how they are radicalised online, often through Isis’s skilled use of social media. “It happens in their bedrooms, no one can reach them,” says Thakur, mimicking manic typing on the bonnet of a parked car. “Anyway boys will be boys, some will always want a fight,” he adds.