An East London academy rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted is to be inspected by counter-terrorism officers. The move comes after four of its pupils travelled to Syria to become jihadi brides while a further four had their passports confiscated before they could make the same journey.
One of the girls, a 15-year-old who cannot be named for legal reasons, was apprehended as her British Airlines flight to Istanbul taxied down the runway, the Daily Mail has reported.
The girls’ actions have sparked fears of fanaticism at the Bethnal Green Academy, prompting the Department of Education to send in experts from its “due diligence and counter-extremism division” to investigate potential extremist links. The school is also putting on weekly talks for parents, giving advice on radicalism and what to watch out for.
Concerned parents have also begun holding their own meetings to discuss Islamic fundamentalism at the school, with some printing and distributing leaflets on how to spot the signs of radicalisation amongst their children.
A Department for Education spokesman said: “Our understanding of the challenge [of extremism], and the way we monitor the ability of schools to respond to it, has advanced hugely. As part of this, this government set up a dedicated due diligence and counter-extremism division within the Department and they are working tirelessly to see if and where we can offer help to schools with pupils or former pupils who have since travelled to Syria or other areas of concern.
“The Secretary of State has asked them to review those schools where we have evidence of links with pupils who have travelled to Syria.”
But some parents have criticised the Department for not going far enough to prevent more youngsters travelling abroad, saying that the current measures are merely “papering over the cracks”. They have called for a thorough investigation into the school.
Nazrul Islam, who has a 13-year-old son at the school, said: “Lots of parents around here who have children that go to Bethnal Green Academy are all very concerned.
“After what happened with the girls leaving, parents are worried that their children might be radicalised too – but they don’t know how to stop it.
“We have been left in a horrible situation and now parents are worried they don’t know what their children are doing. The police told the school that they were concerned about the girls. Did the school then contact the parents? What did they know and what did they do about it? We need to get to the bottom of it.”
Davis Lewin, deputy director at think-tank The Henry Jackson Society agreed with the parents, saying: “It is vital that the authorities investigate the situation at the school. Parents and the public deserve answers. If there is a problem in Bethnal Green Academy, it must be addressed urgently. If not, we must know where these children are being indoctrinated with this hateful ideological poison.”
Last December 15-year-old Sharmeena Begum paved the way, travelling to Syria to marry a jihadi fighter. She was followed last month by Kadiza Sultana, 16, Shamima Begum, 15, and Amira Abase, also 15.
Their departure prompted police to raise welfare concerns for four of their classmates and one home-schooled girl, three of whom are 16 and two aged 15, which led to a judge banning the five girls from travelling abroad and confiscating their passports.
Meanwhile, it has transpired that Amira’s father, Abase Hussein, has not been seen by neighbours for a month. One neighbour told the Mail “I used to see him in the mosque before his daughter went to Syria, but after that I haven’t seen him anymore. He used to take his children to the mosque. He was very religious.”
Another added “I haven’t see him for a long time now – maybe a month. I haven’t seen any of the family. He isn’t at work because he doesn’t work. He has an injury so he can’t work.”
Mr Hussein told MPs that British police were to blame for his daughter’s abscondment, but footage later emerged of Mr Hussein taking part in a radical Islamic protest at the US embassy in London in September 2012. He is seen to shout “burn, burn USA” whilst standing next to a blazing American flag; he also marches alongside protestors carrying jihadi flags and anti-Western placards.
Also at the rally were the hate preacher Anjem Choudary and Michael Adebowale, one of Fusilier Lee Rigby’s killers.