Extremist preachers are turning their backs on mosques and using private homes to radicalise young Muslims into becoming terrorists, according to one of Britain’s top security advisers.
By Christopher Hope, Senior Political Correspondent
Third world charities set up to raise money to help people in Pakistan and Bangladesh are also being used as front organisations to fund terrorism, according to the Home Office’s top anti-terrorism adviser.
Charles Farr, the Director General of the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism, also said that Al-Qaeda was now at “its weakest state” since the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Mr Farr, who was once tipped as a future head of MI6, added that it was “possible to talk of the demise of parts of Al Qaeda” because the revolutions in the Middle East had weakened support for them.
The news came amid the continuing row over the European Court of Human Rights’ refusal to allow Britain to extradite Abu Qatada – once described as “Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe” – to Jordan to face terror charges.
Mr Farr said extremist Muslim preachers could no longer radicalise young people at mosques and universities because of the increasingly effective activities of the Security Services on mainland Britain.
He said that increasingly “it takes place in private premises, simply because the people who are doing the radicalising are now much more aware of the activities that we are conducting
“There has been a trend towards much greater use of private venues, simply because for obvious reasons they feel that they are much more secure.”
He said that radicalisation often “rapidly migrates into a private house where people are brought together, usually under the excuse of there being a faith-based meeting, and the discussion rapidly develops into something much more about terrorism and the legitimacy of violence.”
There was some radicalisation going on in Britain, but in “no more than one or two per cent” of the mosques in the UK, he said. Charities were also being used as fronts to raise money to fund terrorism.
Mr Farr said: “We can see some activity going on in charitable organisations, often with the pretext of raising funds to be sent overseas for good works, for example to Pakistan or indeed Bangladesh.”
Mr Farr, who hardly ever speaks in public on the record, made the remarks last Autumn to the Home Affairs Select Committee. The comments were published quietly on the committee’s website in part-redacted form this week.
He said Al-Qaeda was now at “its weakest state” since the September 11 terror attacks over a decade ago in the wake of the killing of Osama Bin Laden last year.
Mr Farr added that it was “possible to talk of the demise of parts of Al-Qaeda” because of the revolutions in the Middle East.
Mr Farr said: “Over the past year we have seen significant changes in the terrorist threat – significant developments in the Middle East and the Arab world, which have impacted on the threat in broadly positive ways.
“Al-Qaeda is no longer the organisation it was. It is at its weakest state since 9/11, and it is possible to talk of the demise of parts of Al-Qaeda in a way that we could not have done if we had been having this conversation even a year ago.”
Ten years ago, in the wake of the September 11 2001 attacks on the east coast of America, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, the then-chief of the defence staff, suggested that the “war on terror” might last 50 years.
However, Mr Farr added: “I think opinion is changing in the Muslim majority world as well, generally, against terrorism and against terrorist organisations. I am not quite as pessimistic as you may be and I certainly don’t think in 50-year terms.”
Western intelligence agencies have been tightening the noose on Al-Qaeda ever since Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, was killed by US forces in Pakistan last year.
Mr Farr also described the English Defence League as a “significant organisation” adding “that it is deeply troubling in many respects and can cause great harm”.
But he said that the attacks similar to those in Norway, when Anders Breivik Behring, with suspected far right sympathies, shot and killed 77 people last year, were unlikely.
He told the MPs: “It is certainly the case that there is a strong extreme right group or groups in this country, significant numbers of people who would subscribe to extreme right wing views.
“However, we don’t see such a tendency for people who hold those views to drift into the world of terrorism.
“Extreme right terrorism in this country is and remains rare, and there are no extreme right wing terrorist organisations operating here in the way that we may have seen in some other countries overseas.”
Mr Farr blamed “the view that we are conducting a war on Islam, not a war on terrorism” as “a very significant reason why people have gravitated and drifted into terrorist activities”.
He also cited private Home Office polling that Muslims were three times more likely than Christians to become radicalised.
According to the unpublished survey, carried out between April 2009 and March 2010, three per cent of Muslims thought it was ‘always’ or ‘often right’ to use violent extremism in Britain to protest against things they judged to be very unfair or unjust compared to one per cent of Christians and one per cent of those with no religion.
The study also found that six per cent of Christians thought violent extremism was ‘always/often right’ or ‘sometimes right, sometimes wrong’, compared with 15 per cent of Hindus and 12 per cent of Muslims.
However the survey added: “This tells us that while Muslims and Hindus are, as a group, less likely than Christians to reject violent extremism, the differences may be explained by their younger age profile and/or socioeconomic profile.”