Campuses face more cases of students becoming radicalised by extremist propaganda, a university vice-chancellor has warned.
Professor Mark Cleary, of Bradford University, was speaking as four of his undergraduates were jailed for a total of 11 years last week for glorifying Islamic terrorism.
He said the problem of how to detect extremist material cut right across the higher education sector. “We cannot monitor and control every bit of information that comes in to the university,” he said. “But we are certainly not complacent. The sector as a whole is grappling with the issue.
“It is far better if we are able to identify these issues within the university and work closely with the appropriate authorities and get these things sorted out and for prosecutions to take place.”
The plot by Aitzaz Zafar, Awaab Iqbal, Akbar Butt and Usman Malik to launch a Jihad, or “Holy War” and to persuade others to become “soldiers of Islam“, came to light when a schoolboy, Mohammed Ifran Raja, ran away from home in February last year. Raja, from Ilford, Essex, planned to join the students and travel to Pakistan to train as a terrorist. He was sentenced to two years youth detention.
During the trial, it emerged that the first-year students had used campus computer facilities to compile extremist material. Police who raided Iqbal’s flat in Bradford found a photo montage that had been edited to include his face among the 9/11 hijackers.
Their extreme views alarmed the university’s Islamic Society, when at a meeting, Zafar called for Muslims to kill anyone who dared re-publish Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed.
The society ejected them, but the university only became aware of the incident after the police raids.
A university spokesman said the society’s decision to isolate the group demonstrated that moderate Muslim students were prepared to act when they came across unacceptable behaviour.
Up to 48 British universities have been infiltrated by fundamentalists, according to Professor Anthony Glees, the director of Brunel University’s Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies. He claims that followers of Omar Bakri, the founder of the disbanded al-Muhajiroun, continue to preach on campuses.
A Government report published in December warned of “serious, but not widespread, Islamic extremist activity in higher education institutions”.
Government guidance, which asks staff to log suspicious behaviour, has been rejected by the University and Colleges Union, which described it as a “witch-hunt”.