Islamic fanatics grooming students at 25 British universities
The threat posed by Islamic extremists "grooming" students at British universities has been drastically underestimated by ministers, a leading academic warned last night.
Prof Anthony Glees, the director of Brunel University's centre for intelligence and security studies, warned that more than 25 campuses had been infiltrated by fanatics recruiting for so-called jihad (holy war).
His comments came as the Department for Education urged lecturers to be on the look out for impressionable youngsters who could fall under the influence of radical preachers.
In a 20-page report the department warns of "serious, but not widespread, Islamic extremist activity in higher education institutions". It asks lecturers to vet Islamic preachers invited on to campuses, ensure that "hate literature" is not distributed among students and report suspicious behaviour to police.
Bill Rammell, the higher education minister, said: "It is about all of us working together to identify and challenge what I think is a small minority who advocate extremism."
The report followed comments by Sheikh Musa Admani, a Muslim chaplain at London Metropolitan University and adviser to Mr Rammell, that he was aware of at least four universities in which students had been "groomed" by extremists. The minister said he could not estimate how many universities were affected.
But Prof Glees said: "The guidance is a step in the right direction, but I don't think the threat has been taken seriously enough.
"From my research I would say this issue probably affects more than 25 universities, not the small handful they talk of. The fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan has radicalised many young men and I think an opportunity has been missed to take serious action against a very real threat."
He suggested extra investment should be made in campus security and academics should interview undergraduates to ensure that they were bona fide students.
Yesterday's report outlined real-life cases and how similar scenarios should be handled by universities. This included students being seen logging on to websites showing "somebody making a home-made explosive device". In one incident, the report said, students had raised concerns about a speaker delivering a talk called "Terrorist or freedom fighter?".
The report said that in such cases, academics should investigate the preacher's background and consider expelling him from the university.
It also highlighted the case of a member of an Islamic society who complained that meetings had begun to "turn more extreme under the influence of a number of individuals who have recently joined". It suggested universities should suspend funding from groups found to have breached religious hatred laws.
"Should control of a college society or other group fall into the hands of extremist individuals, this can play a significant role in the extent of extremism on campus," said the report. "Taking control of Friday prayers, other prayer meetings and sermons and the use of charismatic radical speakers can be means by which extreme groups seek to spread their messages."
It said that some students, particularly those away from home for the first time, were vulnerable targets. It suggested that some "quite rightly" wanted to explore their faith but then fell into the wrong company.
The report said universities – which are often rife with "ethnically segregated communities" – provided opportunities for extremists to "form new networks, and extend existing ones".
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