Teacher convicted of attempting to radicalise 110 pupils, continuing the debate about Ofsted’s measures for targeting extremism

An unqualified teacher, who taught at an Islamic school and mosque, has been convicted of trying to recruit an “army of children” to carry out Isis-inspired attacks on targets across London. Umar Haque “planned to launch simultaneous terror attacks against a handwritten list of 30 potential targets, including Big Ben, the Tube, Westfield shopping centre, Heathrow Airport, courts, Shia Muslims, journalists and far-right groups”[1].

Haque had access to 250 young people at two east London schools, including a fee-paying school, and the Ripple Road madrassa over five years. He reportedly attempted to radicalise 110 of them, a process which involved the children acting out his planned atrocities after he had manipulated them, “telling them he intended to die a martyr and Isis was “good””. He also showed the children graphic images and threatened them if they did not join his cause, and played terrorist videos to them, including those showing beheadings[2].

He reportedly became “fascinated” by the Islamist terror attack on Westminster Bridge in March and began conspiring with two others (who have also been convicted for related and un-related offenses) to bring his own “death squad” to London[3]. The Daily Mail reports that he is said to have known Khuram Butt, one of the terrorists involved in the Borough Market attack last year[4].

In a bugged conversation, he was recorded saying of his planned attacks, “Immediately there’s one focus to all the police. Get off the streets. Civilians get off the streets. London will be, not just Westminster attack, entire London … we’re here to cause terror, my brother … We are a death squad sent by Allah and his messengers to avenge my Arab brothers’ blood.”[5] He later said he was preparing a defence force in case of a “fascist” uprising, and Isis propaganda was found in his home[6].

One of the boys involved told the police that Haque had been training them so that by the time they were in Year 10 they would be physically strong enough to fight. He said they were told not to tell their parents of the training and that Haque admitted to being part of the Islamic State, which had “ordered him to do a big attack in London”[7].

Haque came to the authorities’ attention when he tried to travel to Turkey in 2016 along a route to Syria frequently used by hundreds of British jihadis. This makes him “one of a growing number of terrorists who have attempted domestic attacks after failing to become foreign fighters”[8].

After he was convicted, he reportedly shouted, “If I may just say that American and Europe, there will be a drought and you will see the Islamic State establish itself in the Arabian Peninsula”[9].

Work is ongoing to protect the children targeted, who have been left “almost paralysed with fear”[10]. Emma Webb, of the Henry Jackson Society’s Centre for the Response to Radicalisation and Terrorism, said this case is a “stark reminder” that schools can be sites of radicalisation. She added, “Ofsted must reassess whether their inspections are thorough enough to meet present challenges, and make sure that schools are practicing what they preach when it comes to British values”[11].

This is a particularly interesting comment in light of recent controversial implementations by Ofsted which are aimed at targeting extremism and promoting British values. See https://www.euro-islam.info/2018/02/13/ofsteds-mission-tackle-extremism-british-schools-criticised-unfairly-targeting-muslim-community/?lipi=urn%3Ali%3Apage%3Ad_flagship3_profile_view_base_treasury%3BAKfuHYq8RsO7G3BIUoAgpw%3D%3D and https://www.euro-islam.info/2018/01/09/ofsted-criticised-decision-question-primary-school-girls-wearing-hijab/?lipi=urn%3Ali%3Apage%3Ad_flagship3_profile_view_base_treasury%3B1CGcmFm7SC2XR2Kiwmmp1A%3D%3D for details of this.

Responding to the incident, Matthew Coffey, Ofsted’s deputy chief inspector, commented, “It is of deep regret that this individual was able to work within the independent school system and expose his warped ideology to children … Ofsted is committed to protecting children from harm, including radicalisation. However, our ability to do so is hampered by limitations on our powers. We have no ability to inspect out-of-school settings, such as madrassas, and we believe greater powers in this area could keep children safe in the future … We know the Government is keen to address these matters and welcome their commitment to closer working”[12].

The Daily Mail notes that “There have been repeated calls for regulation of the religious classes offered to children by mosques amid fears around extremism” and briefly links the incident with Haque to the controversial Trojan Horse incident in Birmingham[13].

While Ofsted did comment after an inspection that one of the schools Haque worked in did not complete essential checks on staff prior to their employment, it did not pick up on instances of extremism in either school after its inspections[14].

The mosque where part of the events occurred is being investigated by the Charity Commission and supplementary education classes have been suspended[15]. The investigation will consider how Haque was able to radicalise children and whether misconduct and mismanagement led to this. It will take “appropriate regulatory action” in response to these findings[16].

[1] Dearden, 2018.

[2] Dearden, 2018.

[3] Dearden, 2018.

[4] Spillett and Gardham, 2018.

[5] Dearden, 2018.

[6] Dearden, 2018.

[7] Dearden, 2018.

[8] Dearden, 2018.

[9] Spillett and Gardham, 2018.

[10] Dearden, 2018.

[11] Dearden, 2018.

[12] Spillett and Gardham, 2018.

[13] Spillett and Gardham, 2018.

[14] Spillett and Gardham, 2018.

[15] Dearden, 2018.

[16] Spillett and Gardham, 2018.

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Dearden, L. (2018) ‘Isis fanatic tried to recruit children for ‘death squad’ to launch terror attacks in London’. [online] 2 March. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/isis-attacks-umar-haque-london-terror-death-squad-children-recruit-london-a8236731.html. [Accessed 5 March 2018].

Spillett, R. and Gardham, D. (2018) ‘ISIS-obsessed religious teacher is found guilty of training ‘army’ of more than 100 pupils as young as 11 to unleash car and knife attacks on Big Ben, Heathrow and Westfield’. [online] 2 March. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5422811/Islamist-trained-100-youngsters-attack-London.html. [Accessed 5 March 2018].