The following is a summarised extract from the first chapter of The Battle for British Islam by Sara Khan with Tony McMahon. The chapter begins with the story of a teenage girl called Muneera who very nearly left for Syria with her friend to join ISIS back in 2015.
Muneera told her intervention provider Leila that living in the ISIS caliphate would be like “Islamic Disneyland” as she termed it. Leila had been allocated to Muneera under the UK government’s Prevent programme to help undo the damage done by terrorist radicalisers.
The teenager was a third-generation British Muslim born and raised in the UK. There had been no signs of teenage rebelliousness with Muneera and she was very close to her parents. But after seeing a TV news report on Syria, she spent an increasing amount of time on Twitter where she was drawn unknowingly into a terrorist support network.
One of these people was a young boy from Blackburn aged just 14 and a 15-year-old girl from Wembley. Leila noted that it was a “fast track radicalisation that happened in just a matter of weeks”. The 14-year-old was already plotting a massacre of army veterans at the 2015 Anzac Day parade in Australia. Incredibly, from his bedroom in Blackburn he was directing an older boy thousands of miles away to commit murder.
In just two weeks after setting up his Twitter account, the 14-year-old had 24,000 followers becoming an ISIS “fanboy”. Muneera and the girl from Wembley were now drawn into a very dangerous triangle. The Wembley girl was bursting to flee to Syria but the boy urged restraint. However, the girl forged ahead convincing Muneera it was time to go.
Muneera attempted to leave the UK twice and on the second occasion was stopped by the police. She and her family consented to refer the matter to Prevent, stopping her falling into the criminal justice system. With Leila, she began to address the issues that had led her so close to terrorist engagement and a very long prison sentence. Eventually, she expressed her regret in the form of a poem:
With their lies I was drowning deep,
Convinced I was picking a rose without any thorns…
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