A Muslim man in the UK was sentenced to six years in prison Thursday, Oct. 5 for attempting to radicalize two elementary school brothers by showing them Islamic State beheading videos and other terrorist propaganda.
Zameer Ghumra, 38, was a pharmacist in Oundle, Northamptonshire up until his arrest at Birmingham airport in September 2015 for disseminating terrorist propaganda and is said to have been in the process of setting up a madrasa (Islamic school). Evidence submitted in the case included a seized computer with 1,600 search results for terms including, “survival knives” and “bushcraft” – a popular term for wilderness survival skills.
Ghumra was teaching the two young boys how to survive a bomb attack and fight with knives. He’d reward them with candy for their loyalty.
Judge Gregory Dickinson QC presided over the case at Nottington Crown and described the evidence as a particularly serious attempt to turn the boys into terrorists.
“These were shocking crimes which damaged the children and caused offense to the vast majority of law-abiding Muslims,” Dickinson said, adding an “absence of remorse” from the defendant.
Among evidence submitted against Ghumra were ISIS-linked social media accounts he followed and made the two boys follow, and online conversations with jailed radical preacher Anjem Choudary, whom he praised to the children.
One of the two boys, whom remain unidentified due to their ages, told the court he was shown beheading videos and described for the jurors how he felt.
“[Ghumra] had Isis training videos and people being beheaded. There was talking and then the American soldier was beheaded,” he told the courtroom. “It made me feel disgusting. He said: ‘If you truly love Allah, then you do it.’ I told him I get a horrid feeling when I see this.”
“He believes in a very, very, very extreme Islam,” the boy continued. “He believes if anyone’s non-Muslim and they say anything bad about Islam, you kill them. And you can’t make friends with any non-Muslim.”
In a police interview played in the courtroom, the younger child was heard saying, “He put us on Twitter. He told us to follow whoever he followed. He was following ISIS and really bad people.”
The boy also said Ghumra gave them knives, toy guns, as well as business cards – which were shown to the jury – with the boys’ names and email addresses alongside a picture of a rifle.
“He was basically training us to survive in a situation with ISIS where the lights go out,” he said.
The boys’ mother testified that she had grown increasingly concerned with Ghumra’s influence on the kids, and said they were waking up in the middle of the night thinking someone was killing them.
“My kids have been forced to watch ISIS training videos,” she told the court. “He told them, ‘We will have to do this one day.’ He told them all kafirs [non-believers] go to hell, even if they’re good people.”
She said one of her children had been subjected to a beheading video and was told by Ghumra, “We will have to do this when we go to Syria.”
“He said if you truly believe in God you do it for him,” the boys’ mother said. “He said they would go to Turkey and make a run for it.”
Sue Hemming of the Crown Prosecution Service made a statement after the guilty verdict.
“Zameer Ghumra tried to brainwash impressionable children with this violent ideology by making one watch beheading videos and urging them both to adopt a hardline religious outlook. The CPS case was that he intended to radicalize them in the hope that they would go on to be involved in terrorism. The children were brave to give evidence and we would like to thank them for helping to secure this conviction of a dangerous man.”
The UK continues to have an open border policy for Muslim immigrants, but is taking precautions against radicalized terrorists with a flagship counterterrorism program to “deradicalize” at-risk people. Although the program was initially designed to deradicalize Britons returning from war in Syria who had been referred to the program, children aged nine and under were among the 3,955 people referred to the program in 2015, more than double the 1,681 in 2014.
A 4-year-old child in a nursery school in Luton was in fear of being referred for deradicalization when staff noticed a picture he drew resembled a “cooker bomb.” The “cooker bomb” turned out to be a picture of the boy’s father cutting a cucumber with a knife.
Dr. Eric Saltman, a senior counter-extremism researcher at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, said the increase in referrals to the program is due to a larger level of awareness in combination with an increase in fear.
“We are seeing an increase in fearful rhetoric around radicalization particularly when we see foreign terrorist fighter and females in unprecedented numbers joining ISIS,” he told the Guardian.