Children aged nine and under are being referred to a government deradicalisation programme nearly every day as new figures show the number of young people being reported as potential extremists has almost doubled in a year.
A total of 4,611 people, half of them children and teens, have been flagged up for possible intervention to stop them falling under the spell of extremist ideas.
Islamist extremism is involved in 70 per cent of those referred, while 15 per cent of cases are related to far-right ideas.
Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show in the year to June there were 2,311 referrals to the Channel scheme for under-18s, up 83 per cent, including 352 cases of children aged nine or under, or an average of one a day.
AT A GLANCE | Terror threat levels
MI5 issues threat levels to provide “a broad indication of the likelihood of a terrorist attack.”
Low: An attack is unlikely
Moderate: An attack is possible, but not likely
- Substantial: An attack is a strong possibility
- Severe: An attack is highly likely
- Critical: An attack is expected imminently
Members of the public should always remain alert to the danger of terrorism and report any suspicious activity to the police on 999 or the anti-terrorist hotline: 0800 789 321.
It is then supposed to work with schools, social services, the police and local councils to keep them away from danger.
Terrorism experts said online propaganda meant police were finding young people exposed to extremist ideas at younger and younger ages.
The controversial legal obligation to flag up potential cases, known as the Prevent duty, has also led to a huge increase in young people being referred. One social worker from east London told The Telegraph that she was now regularly having to involve the police as rebellious and often troubled teens parroted Islamist ideas they had seen on the internet.
What is Isil? An Islamist extremist group controlling territory in Syria and Iraq
What is it called? In the West, the group is usually known as Isil (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) or Isis (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). The militants said they wanted to simply be called Islamic State in recognition of the self-declared caliphate
What about ‘Daesh’? Daesh is an abbreviation Dawlat al-Islamiyah f’al-Iraq wa al-Sham, and is the derogatory name used by many Muslims for Isil. Following the Paris attacks, the French government is now using this term
What are its aims? A worldwide Islamic caliphate – a religious government without borders
What terror attacks has it carried out? Isil has claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks of 13 November 2015, the explosion of a plane travelling from Egypt to Russia, and the individual killings of Western hostages, including James Foley and Alan Henning
Where is it based? Isil’s HQ is in the city of Raqqa, Syria
Raffaello Pantucci, director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute, said high-profile cases of teenaged Britons heading to Syria or Iraq to wage jihad had also made people more aware of the risk.
He said: “I suspect it’s a case of people being more alert to the issue.
“If we have stories in the press about children as young as 13 going out to Syria and Iraq, then they become more alert to the problem.
“We have seen a growth in quite young people going out to fight in these places.
“I think we are seeing a very downward trajectory in terms of the ages of people who are participating in extremist activity.”
Referrals from schools have climbed from 537 to 1,121 over the same period, according to the statistics released by the National Police Chiefs’ Council.
Jonathan Russell, head of policy at counter-extremism think tank Quilliam, said factors behind the rise in referrals could include the “increased visibility” of so-called Islamic State leading to more radicalisation and the statutory Prevent duty resulting in more referrals because frontline workers can now “spot the signs”.
Mr Russell added: “The important thing to note is that the stats show that trained professionals think an increasing number of young people are vulnerable to radicalisation.”
Channel is voluntary and not everyone who is referred needs intervention, the Home Office said.
A spokesman said: “We have a duty to challenge, at every turn, the twisted narrative that has exploited some of our vulnerable young people.
“Many referrals to the programme require no further action, some are referred to other services for support, while for others receiving support through Channel is the right option.
“Like safeguarding mechanisms for other risks such as child sexual exploitation, vulnerable children deserve to have the support they need.”
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