‘People still want to travel to Syria – and pose a risk’

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Church holding family fun day in Portsmouth

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THE police officer leading counter-extremism says his unit is preventing more people travelling to Syria from Portsmouth.

But he has fears that if some don’t leave, they could pose a threat in the UK.

That’s my genuine worry, that’s why we need the public to be aware, this problem has not gone away, there may well be a risk to ourselves and our society because of people unable to travel

Insp David Knowles

Huge amounts of counter-extremism work has been carried out in Portsmsouth but there are still people who want to travel to the warzone, according to Inspector David Knowles, who leads Hampshire police’s Prevent scheme tackling extremism.

He told The News he thinks people prevented from going by police may then be a threat.

It comes more than two years after a major effort was launched to tackle Islamist and far-right extremism after young men from Portsmouth went to Syria to fight with Isis.

Five out of the six, including Ifthekar Jaman and Muhammad Hamidur Rahman, were killed and one was jailed.

Insp Knowles told The News: ‘It’s unlikely but I know that there are a number of people in Portsmouth who still have a desire to travel to Syria.

‘This is the message I give to communities when I go to meetings every few days – it hasn’t stopped, there are people, adults and young people in Portsmouth who want to go to Syria even though five people have been killed.

‘My worry from that is if they can’t get to Syria because the authorities stop them, then what will they do?

‘Will they say “okay and go back to my normal job or college” or will they do something else?

‘That’s my genuine worry, that’s why we need the public to be aware. This problem has not gone away – there may well be a risk to ourselves and our society because of people unable to travel.’

Abu-Suyeb Tanzam, a Muslim community leader, said: ‘We’re surprised and shocked. We don’t know anything about that, if there’s any element we’re really surprised.

‘If there’s anything we can do we’re happy to work with authorities.’

The News asked police how many people in Portsmouth have been referred under Prevent but officials refused to release the data due to security.

But Insp Knowles has said there have been successes with de-radicalising extremists referred to the scheme.

Flick Drummond, Portsmouth South MP, said stopping extremism was the job of everybody in the community.

‘As a community we’ve got to make sure they don’t feel alienated,’ she said.

She added: ‘It’s just like grooming . They’re just using religion – it’s totally misguided and not the real Islam.

‘I know one of the families whose son did go, he wanted to come back and he was talked to by a family member, an Imam, and explained to him why this wasn’t the true faith.’

She added: ‘Syria is an incredibly dangerous place, if they do go over there they will probably be killed.’