Spring break for ISIS? Senior prosecutor warns students could flee during holidays

Reuters / Yaser Al-Khodor
A senior prosecutor has warned school children could use the Easter Holidays to flee the UK and join the Islamic State because head teachers have failed to report at-risk youngsters to authorities for fear their schools would be investigated.

Nazir Afzal said although schools are concerned about the possible disappearance of teenagers over the holidays, staff members were not reporting students in case they become criminalized.

Afzal, who stood down as chief crown prosecutor for northwest England on Tuesday, told the Times that head teachers had personally told him at least a dozen male and female students at two London state schools may have been ‘groomed and seduced’ by the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS).

One head said he was being approached almost on a daily basis by parents who fear their kids are about to go to Syria,” Afzal said.

“Both said they were scared of the Easter break and would be relieved if all their pupils came back after the holidays,” he added.

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Afzal said the two head teachers “had no idea what advice to give the parents” and had said there was a lack of “face-to-face support” for young people who are vulnerable to online radicalization.

“They didn’t know what to do. They’re told to direct parents to the police, but the parents don’t want the police to be told and the heads don’t want to criminalize their pupils. They wanted to know why there was no therapeutic, preventative option for these children.”

Afzal, a Muslim of Pakistani origin, also noted that ISIS recruiters are using similar techniques used by gangs to groom young girls online for sex, calling it “a form of seduction.

“ISIS terrorists are deluded, narcissistic, glory-hunting inadequates [sic] who call themselves soldiers, but they’re selling themselves with professionally-made videos that make them seem glamorous and sexy … Isn’t that what groomers do? They make these kids feel wanted and loved, they tell them they understand them and they distance them from their friends and family.”

Afzal’s remarks come after a spate of school pupils have deserted the UK and made their way to join the IS in Syria.

In February, four girls from the Bethnal Green Academy in east London traveled to Syria via Turkey. They paid for their flights to Istanbul in cash before crossing the border into the war-torn country.

A further four pupils from the same school were prevented from traveling and monitored by anti-terror services after their parents alerted police.

It is believed that around 600 Britons, mostly teenagers and young adults, have joined the IS since 2013.