Page last updated at 13:47 GMT, Tuesday, 13 April 2010 14:47 UK

Can home-grown Islamic extremists be de-radicalised?

Abu Hamza
Many convicted radicals feel they are fighting injustice in their communities

With efforts to de-radicalise young Islamic extremists in prison allegedly failing, Radio 4's Mobeen Azhar looks at whether programmes for offenders after they are released are having more success.

"Meet me on the main road so my mum doesn't see," are not the words you would expect to hear from a convicted terrorist.

Meeting Rizwan Ditta, there is little to suggest that he was ever an extremist.

But in 2007 he admitted two counts of possessing documents likely to be useful for terrorist purposes, after police discovered jihadist propaganda on a hard drive in his bedroom.

They need to understand that it's not only Muslims who are victims of injustice
Alyas Karmani, imam and mentor

Now released on a strict licence, he must report to probation once a week, he cannot use the internet and he cannot travel far from his home in Halifax without express permission.

He claims to have changed his ideology after working with a Muslim mentor, one of a handful of imams who give advice to terror offenders post-release, via the probation service.

"Some people are blessed to be able to give you a wider understanding, a global understanding of Islam," he told BBC Radio 4.

"The mentor is good at making you see the reality of a situation."

His past ideology was shaped by the opinions given on conflicts such as Bosnia by radical Muslim groups like al Muhajiroun and Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Fathers and sons

But according to one mentor, the reason why some young men may turn to radical Islamic politics may have a domestic origin.

Alyas Karmani is an imam, mentor, psychologist and youth worker based in London.

He said: "Offenders always cite perceived injustice about foreign policy.

The dome of a mosque in the UK
Arabic and Urdu was the language of the first generation of UK Mosques

"It's important that we talk about these things but it's just one of many relevant factors.

"For example, I ask the men I work with about their relationships with their fathers.

"Nine out of ten tell me they don't really have a relationship, certainly not one in which they are comfortable.

"There isn't one single reason why someone becomes vulnerable to extremism. All these factors have to be accessed and taken into consideration," he said.

He said he aimed to broaden and challenge the participant's view of themselves and the world.

"They need to understand that it's not only Muslims who are victims of injustice.

"The world isn't black and white. We highlight the grey that many of these men have never considered."

But not everyone who leaves jail jettisons their ideology.

Shah-Jalal Hussain, an al Muhajiroun associate, convicted of raising funds for terrorism, is unrepentant about his crime.

He took part in a demonstration outside Regents Park Mosque, in London, despite being repeatedly told to leave by the mosque authorities.

He told onlookers they should give their money to "Sheik Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaida in Iraq", insisting he was motivated by reports of conflict in Iraq.

He told the BBC: "I believed that the prosecution did not establish a case against me.

Anyone who doesn't rule by God's law is a devil. Those who uphold that law, they are upholding a satanic system
Shah-Jalal Hussain, convicted extremist

"Anyone who doesn't rule by God's law is a devil. Those who uphold that law, they are upholding a satanic system."

So how did Shah-Jalal come to such conclusions? He said the mosques he attended as a teenager refused to engage with any political curiosities he had.

Most British mosques were established by the first generation of UK Muslims, and as a result, sermons are often in Urdu or Arabic instead of English.

"I went to see Abu Hamza speak and for the first time in my life I heard Islam in English.

"Before this I thought Islam was just fasting and praying," he said.

Alyas Karmani said this type of radicalisation had little to do with spiritual conviction.

"In the same way that kids can get involved in knife crime or substance abuse, some young Muslim men can become vulnerable to extremist ideology.

"These men are often looking for something and often the pull of an extremist group can be perceived as way to fill a void."

Hanif Qadir runs a de-radicalisation programme called the Active Change Foundation from a London youth centre.

When they feel they have a stake in something, the balance is tipped and they no longer have to fill a void
Hanif Qadir, Active Change Foundation

He also believes "filling the void" is the key to de-radicalise young men.

Mr Qadir once travelled to Afghanistan to support the Taliban but did not fight after witnessing what he described as "horrible things".

He returned to England, determined to stop others going down a path of extremism.

He now receives clients from the probation service and believes his experiences give him a unique set of de-radicalisation tools.

"We reverse the tactics of radicalisation.

"These men say they care about injustice, so we expose them to wrongs in their own communities and teach that they can actually make a difference.

"When they feel they have a stake in something, the balance is tipped and they no longer have to fill a void."

Freed Radicals is on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday, 13 April at 2000 BST, and is repeated on Sunday 18 April at 1700. You can also listen via the BBC iPlayer after broadcast.



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