‘Impressionable youth to terrorist’: MI5 rattled by teen’s rapid radicalization

British teenager Brusthom Ziamani, 19. (Reuters/Metropolitan Police)
MI5 are concerned by the speed at which British teenager, Brusthom Ziamamni, became radicalized. The 19 year-old was arrested last August, as he carried a 12 inch knife in a black Islamist flag. He was later found guilty of plotting to behead a soldier.

The intelligence agency fears Ziamani’s case highlights the rise of a new wave of Islamist extremists who can be radicalized in mere weeks to conduct terror attacks.

Fanatical extremists are targeting volatile young Muslims in Britain who are susceptible to warped preaching and can rapidly be transformed from disenchanted youths to dangerous jihadists, MI5 warns.

Ziamamni was intercepted by police in Whitechapel, East London last August after a counter-terror officer recognized him as a man wanted for spreading extremist ideology.

After searching Ziamamni, officers were rattled by what they uncovered. The teenager had in his possession a 12-inch blade and a hammer wrapped carefully in a black Islamist flag.

It later emerged he had researched the location of army cadet bases, and was on his way to murder a British soldier in an effort to replicate the brutal beheading of Fusilier Lee Rigby.

Ziamani was found guilty of plotting the murder on Thursday.

UK authorities were reportedly disturbed by the sheer pace of his path to radicalization. They found his rapid transition from disaffected teenager to willing terrorist to be both shocking and unsettling.

Path to radicalization

When MI5 began to delve into the teenager’s background, they uncovered a history of discontent, petty crime and drugs.

Ziamani grew up in Camberwell, South London, with his mother and father, who originally hailed from Congo. Known to his close friends as Bruce, the 19-year-old spent much of his earlier years attempting to convert people to Christianity.

READ MORE:British teenager found guilty of terror plot to behead soldier

As ardent Jehovah’s Witnesses, the teenager and his parents used to scale local streets, preaching to all who would listen.

As Ziamani matured, however, his interest in religion waned. He also became embroiled in criminal activity, stealing credit cards and using them to pay for sex with prostitutes.

It emerged during Ziamani’s trial at the Old Baily that he converted to Islam last spring. The teenager said his interest in the religion was sparked by a passion for rap music.

Sensing his devoutly Christian parents would disapprove of his new faith, Ziamani hid his Muslim clothing from his father. After discovering photographs of Islamists on his phone, his parents were reportedly furious.

A neighbor alleges Ziamani’s father later hurled a bible at his son, and ordered him to leave the house if he could not abide by its rules.

The young man subsequently left home, and became homeless for a period. Ziamani began to attend a Mosque in Camberwell, and sheltered there until a friend offered him a bed nearby.

READ MORE:Trial of terror suspect who ‘planned Woolwich-style murder of soldier’ begins

His new home was a meeting spot for the outlawed Al-Muhajiroun group, which was previously led by radical Islamic preacher Anjem Choudary. Ziamani subsequently became influenced by ideas he was exposed to in the flat.

He adopted the name Mujahid Karim, and began posting extremist comments online within weeks of converting to Islam. In one remark, the teenager declared he was “willing to die in the cause of Allah.”

‘An impressionable young man’

It emerged during Ziamani’s court case he began to plan a terror attack in London because he had no means of getting to Syria to adopt a life of jihadism.

As he attended meetings in the backroom of an east London sweet shop, his determination to bring Sharia Law to the UK reportedly grew.

In June 2014, Met officers raided the flat where Ziamani lived following allegations of unlawful subletting.

He was arrested and later enrolled in a counter-radicalization program. He failed to relinquish his radical views, however, and continued to post extremist comments online.

On the day of his arrest in August, Ziamani told his 16-year-old girlfriend he intended to “kill soldiers.” Further details relating to his terror plot were contained in a letter addressed to his parents.

During his trial, Ziamani denied he had plotted to behead a soldier. He said he was carrying the knife and hammer because he feared for his safety after he had escaped a credit card theft operation. He was nevertheless found guilty.

Following the verdict, Met Police commander and counter-terror officer Richard Walton said the case “starkly illustrates” the threats UK residents face.

“Ziamani was an impressionable young man who became radicalized, then rapidly developed an extremist, violent mindset,” he said.

“Over a series of months he ultimately developed a desire to carry out a terrorist attack on British soldiers.”