A teenage boxer who was radicalised in a matter of months and planned to behead a British soldier, is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’, according to a youth leader.
Brusthom Ziamani was found guilty on February 19 of planning a terrorist act when he was found with a knife and a hammer in his rucksack on his way to re-create a Lee Rigby style assassination.
As the nineteen-year-old awaits his sentencing on March 20, youth leaders have warned more needs to be done to prevent the radicalisation of young people in Southwark and neighbouring boroughs.
Young people are known to travel from Southwark to Lambeth to hear speeches, which may promote extremism, according to Sulaiyman Matthews, who works to combat radicalisation in south east London.
“People cross boundaries now. It’s not unusual for a young man from Peckham to go to a prosthelytiser in Lambeth,” said Sulaiyman, the founder of Youth Empowerment Solutions Charity, based in Streatham, who urged for more to be done to stop the ‘potential threat’ of radicalisation in the area.
“What you are looking at is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how many people have been radicalised. It’s a major issue for young people,” he added.
Matthews works with around 150-200 young people every year who have been radicalised, after founding the charity in 2007 when he confronted a chicken shop owner in Thornton Heath who had been ‘preaching’ to young customers and taking them to the countryside for ‘training’.
There is little evidence of young people being targeted by known extremists on the streets of Southwark, but Matthews’ says any poverty stricken areas are “hotbeds for extremists.”
“A lot of young people from African-Caribbean community are becoming Muslim with very increasing levels,” said Matthews.
“We’ve got to be able to work together. Each community has to be able to work together and understand what’s happening to their young people. We’ve got to take the problem seriously,” he added.
Rhammel Afflick, of Southwark-based youth charity, One Big Community, said after being consulted by the police on this issue, he is convinced more needs to be done in the borough. “I don’t think Southwark is exempt from the issue. It doesn’t have a particular issue compared to other boroughs but it’s not exempt,” he said, adding that young people need to be made aware of the dangers before they are approached by extremists. “It’s important to do the preventative work beforehand,” he said.
Southwark Superintendent David Jackson agreed that radicalisation of young people is something that could affect any community in London.
“We’re working closely, through the ‘Prevent’ strategy, with our local partners at Southwark Council, and with the people and agencies that come into regular contact with young people like teachers and youth workers in Southwark,” he said.
“Collectively we try and identify anyone who may be vulnerable to radicalisation and provide those individuals with the appropriate help and support to stop them from being drawn into terrorism.
“This issue is not something that police can monitor and tackle alone and a big part of our strategy is to involve the local community in helping to identify these vulnerable youngsters. I’d encourage anyone with concerns to get in touch with us through our anti-terrorism hotline.”
Anyone who is concerned about a young person being drawn towards extremism can contact the anti-terrorist hotline on 0800 789 321.