British police are running a new program to screen Muslim schoolchildren for potential terrorists, according to a Saturday report in the London paper, The Independent. Sir Norman Bettison, chief constable of West Yorkshire Police, revealed that 200 have already been identified.
The program has its origins in the July 7, 2005 terrorist bombings on the London public transportation system which killed 52 people and wounded 700 more. Police ultimately concluded that the bombings were masterminded by the four suicide bombers acting on their own. The four, who were Muslim British citizens, did not fit the common profile for a suicide bomber. Two had pregnant wives at the time of the attack.
Bettison explained that “one of the bombers of 7 July was, on the face of it, a model student. He had never been in trouble with the police, was the son of a well-established family and was employed and integrated into society.”
However, once police looked at the bomber’s childhood, they found a different picture. As Bettison pointed out, “when we went back to his teachers they remarked on the things he used to write. In his exercise books he had written comments praising al-Qaeda. That was not seen at the time as being substantive.”
We are targeting criminals and would-be terrorists who happen to be cloaking themselves in Islamic rhetoric.
The monitoring program focuses on similar children who might also one day become bombers. Teachers who identify at-risk behavior are expected to contact the child’s parents or even ask the local Imam to speak to the child. Bettison pointed out that in a handful of cases police have directly intervened.
The British Home Office, responsible for Homeland Security, has funded the program. It was originally piloted in Lambeth in 2007, and afterwards expanded to West Yorshire, the Midlands, Bedforshire and South Wales. The Home office considers the program a success, and has said it will expand it to London, Thames Valley, South Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, and West Sussex as well.
Bettison sees the program not as targeting the Muslim community, but as an opportunity for building a relationship based on trust and confidence. “With the help of these communities, we can identify the kids who are vulnerable,” he said. “We are targeting criminals and would-be terrorists who happen to be cloaking themselves in Islamic rhetoric.”