Five former pupils of a north London school dubbed the “socialists’ Eton” have died fighting as jihadis in Iraq and Syria.
Holland Park School, founded in 1958 gained a reputation as the left-wing Eton thanks to luminaries of the socialist movement, including Tony Benn, Roy Jenkins and Anthony Crossland all opting to send their children there. Envisaged as a coeducational flagship of the comprehensive schooling system, alumni include Polly Toynbee, Matthew Symonds (one of the founders of The Independent) and Jenny Abramsky, director of BBC radio.
But the school is gaining a newfound reputation – as the alma mater to jihadi fighters. According to the Sunday Times, at least five of the school’s former pupils have already died in the Middle East fighting for Islamic groups, while a former sixth former continues to fight.
One of the five, Fatlum Shalaku, was responsible for leading a suicide mission which led to ISIS capturing a strategic stronghold in Iraq under the nom de guerre ‘Abu Musa al—Britani’. The 20-year -old from Ladbroke Grove was one of six suicide car bombers to have struck at government buildings in Ramadi, leading to the eventual fall of the city into IS hands.
His elder brother, 23-year-old Flamur, was killed on the battlefield in March. Friends and neighbours have said that the two men, of Kosovan-Albanian descent, had been raised in a secular family living on the top floor of a 20-floor council tower block.
“The older one turned to Islam first and the younger one followed him,” said one resident, who did not want to be named. “The parents were very upset about it.”
Both men were close friends with another former pupil of Holland Park School, Mohammed Nasser, who was killed fighting for ISIS last year.
Following his schooling, Flamur enrolled in Greenwich University, the same institution as that attended by Michael Adebolajo, who killed fusilier Lee Rigby on the streets of Greenwich in 2013. Shortly after the attack the two brothers traveled to Syria to join the fighting, having told their parents that they were planning to carry out aid work.
According to jihadi sources, the two men were initially recruited by Jabhat al-Nusra, but later defected to ISIS along with other British fighters. A year later, Nusser followed them to the Middle East, as did Hamza Parvez, 22, a fourth former pupil of Holland Park.
Parvez, a waiter before he defected, told his parents he was going abroad to study. So far he has survived the fighting and lives in Raqqa, where he took part in an ISIS propaganda video urging fellow Muslims to give up their weekly Nandos and “come to the land of jihad”.
The two other Holland Park pupils known to have been killed are Mohammed el-Araj, 23, the son of an antiques dealer from Ladbroke Grove, and Nassim Terreri, 25, a Londoner of Algerian descent who was one of the first Britons to be killed in the conflict when he was gunned down in 2012.
Terreri is thought to have been in the same year group as Amal el-Wahabi, 28, who was last year convicted of funding her terrorist husband in Syria after she tricked an old school friend into carrying €20,000 in her underwear on a flight to Turkey.
The school unveiled an £80 million refurbishment in 2012, which included a brand new swimming pool and bespoke chairs for the pupils costing £300 each. It is currently rated “outstanding” by Ofsted. There is no suggestion that the former pupils were radicalised on site.
Colin Hall, the headmaster, has said: “We’ve got a very strong line on secularity and a very strong line on zero tolerance to any kind of fundamentalism from any religion.”