Since a startling video of an aspiring medical student, Nasser Muthana, encouraging fellow British Muslims to follow his lead and travel to Iraq and Syria to fight for the hardcore extremist group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was released in June, Muslim parents in Cardiff have been living in constant fear of their children being radicalized.
20-year-old Nasser and 17-year-old Aseel grew up in the Butetown area of the Welsh capital and were high achievers will they suddenly left to fight for ISIL. This tragic incident has led to speculations that the tightly knit Muslim community in Butetown, which is only 10 minutes away from the National Assembly, is one of Britain’s most prolific exporters of Islamist radicalism. The video also featured 20-year-old Reyaad Khan, who was a friend of Nasser’s at school and in the neighbourhood . Reyaad had been jailed in 2012 along with two other men for conspiring to bomb the London Stock Exchange and planning a ‘Mumbai-style’ debacle in Britain.
“Yes, there is concern about what is turning these young men to act in this way. We are very vigilant as a community; if I see someone who I think is holding these views then I will confront them. They are foolish… I am very careful with my son. I don’t let him out of my sight. He is only 11 years old but he is beginning to understand ideas about religion and I want him learn the true Islam, a religion of peace… We are ordinary people, we want for our children what every parent wants; the opportunity for them to do well. What we don’t want is the lack of opportunity that creates an audience for these videos,” said Mohammed Moor, a taxi driver from the same locality.
The Muslim community in Cardiff, which happens to be one of Britain’s oldest, was founded by Somali and Yemeni sailors who served as crew on British cargo ships. However, Moor who is a third-generation Welshman says he feels more Welsh than some of his elected representatives. But, thanks to a series of unfortunate incidents in recent years, people across the U.K. are left wondering whether the Welsh capital has indeed become a hub for Islamic radicalization.
Some of the incidents that grabbed headlines include the deportation of two Cardiff teenagers for being suspected of having links with Somali militants in Kenya, the conviction of another Cardiff man who published extremist posts on Facebook and the dissolution of a meeting among alleged extremists in a community center by security officials.
The head of counter-terrorism in Wales denied allegations of the police failing to tackle radicalization effectively despite concerned parents saying that the authorities have failed to win the trust of the Muslim community.
“We’re talking about a couple of men; people realize the police can’t keep a hold of everybody, but the police are doing the best job they can. We can only work with our partners and the community to prevent radicalization,” said Nikki Holland, Assistant Chief Constable of South Wales Police.
According to community leaders, it was people outside the city’s mosques that radicalized both Muthana brothers and other youngster from Cardiff. They believe Cardiff is being singled out unfairly in this matter because the problem of Islamist extremism is widespread across Britain.
Reyaad’s mother, who did not wish to be named, appealed to her only son to return home. She said she was shocked when she saw him in the video.
“He is honest, always caring for his family, he always wanted to be there for them. He was one of the best boys a mother could ever want. I think they are brainwashed into thinking they are going to help people. I don’t know who it is but there is someone behind them keeping these young, innocent boys, brainwashing them into thinking they are going to help people,” she said.
Parents of the Muthana brothers also claim that the two boys were brainwashed by radical jihadi recruiters. They were devastated after they found out Aseel had joined Nasser who left to work for a terror cell in Syria in November 2013.
“Behind this are Islamic radicals, hiding behind the scenes, influencing the minds of young people. It is not members of the Yemeni community in Cardiff. Someone is persuading them, brainwashing them, helping them travel, arranging tickets,” said their father.
Parents of the boys spoke out after a counter-terrorism expert warned Britain of facing the repercussions of increasing Islamic extremism in Iraq and Syria. Cressida Dick, Assistant Commissioner and Head of Specialist Operations in Metropolitan Police said Britain would witness long-term consequences of the conflict taking place in the region. According to her, young British Muslims who are currently helping ISIS in Iraq and Syria will return to commit violence in the U.K.