A new report suggests that converts to Islam are more likely to become radicalised than so-called “heritage Muslims”, with criminals and the disaffected being popular targets for jihadi preachers.
The report by The Henry Jackson Society found that converts to Islam “are often more malleable and vulnerable to radical rhetoric”, in part because they combine “an enthusiasm to change the world with a vacuum of knowledge” about less hardline interpretations of the faith.
Author Dr. Julia Rushchenko, a Research Fellow at the Centre for the Response to Terrorism and Radicalisation (CRT), notes that “ultra-conservative Salafi groups have proven more adept at proselytising” than more moderate strains of Islam, and that “the Islamic State (IS) has worked to ensure that its message is capable of being embraced by followers from a diverse array of backgrounds”.
Notable British jihadists who were converts to Islam include Richard Reid, the failed shoe bomber; Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, who ran down and stabbed to death Fusilier Lee Rigby; and Khalid Masood, also known as Adrian Elms or Adrian Ajao, who mowed down pedestrians on Westminster Bridge with a car before stabbing Police Constable Keith Palmer to death outside the Houses of Parliament.
Sally Jones, the former punk musician known as the ‘White Widow’, was also a Muslim convert, and went on to become an Islamic State recruiter and the leader of a female jihadist battalion composed solely of foreign fighters in Syria. (She is believed to have been killed in a drone strike earlier this month.)
After Manchester bombing, Scottish hate preacher based in Nottingham asks “Why should we care when the table turns?" https://t.co/J2I0DeVOjT
— Jack Montgomery ن (@JackBMontgomery) June 6, 2017
While acknowledging that converts make up a relatively small proportion of Muslims in the West, the report notes that they are overrepresented among radicals.
For example, fewer than 4 per cent of Muslims in the United Kingdom were converts as of 2015, but they constituted 12 per cent of home-grown jihadists and perpetrated 16 per cent of Islamist terrorist offences carried between 1998 and 2015.
They also make up a disproportionate share of the Islamic State’s complement of foreign fighters, with 23 per cent of France’s estimated 1,800 volunteers being converts.
Dr. Rushchenko pointed to research suggested that this may be due to converts’ desire to demonstrate their commitment to Islam, in order to be accepted by a community they were not born into and which they feel may not fully accept them.
Birmingham, Luton… https://t.co/NFQ1BFy1Dl
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) March 24, 2017
The report also recommends that, “The nexus between gangs, petty crime and conversions to Islam should be studied in more depth.”
It found that jihadi preachers prey on the “alienated, rootless, [and] disaffected” by offering them a sense of empowerment, with prisoners, in particular, being found to “share a set of grievances and … other vulnerabilities” which make them ripe for “Islamist recruitment and indoctrination”.
“The idea of jihad can attract individuals with a criminal past, by serving as a means of demonstrating rebellion and ‘repenting for sins’,” notes Dr. Rushchenko.
She points out that conversion to Islam seems to have been “particularly popular” among second, third, and fourth generations Afro-Caribbean (West Indian) migrants in the United Kingdom, peaking around 2003-2004.
This phenomenon “was linked to organised crime in the south of London”, with “Some gang members in Brixton … viewing their Islamic identity as an intimidating weapon that could help facilitate their criminal activities.”
The infamous ‘Muslim Boys’ are highlighted as something of a case study. This convert-dominated gang was involved in frequent street clashes with police, has been linked to “dozens of murders, shootings, and other serious offences”, and “became notorious for instigating ‘conversions’ at gunpoint”.
Some of these gang members converted in prison, with most of the original Muslim Boys coming under the influence of jihadi preachers such as Abdullah el-Faisal, a Jamaica-born, Saudi-trained convert who “claimed it was justifiable to commit violent crimes against non-believers while pursuing jihad”.
El-Faisal also mentored one of the 7/7 bombers, and shoe bomber Richard Reid (Abdul Raheem).