Taxpayer-funded Islamist groups, Prevent review finds

William Shawcross-David Rose for The Telegraph

Taxpayer money has been handed over to groups promoting Islamic extremism, according to a landmark review of the Prevent government’s flagship programme.

Key figures in Prevent-funded organizations are alleged to have supported the Taliban, defended militant Islamist groups banned in the UK and harbored hate preachers, according to a leaked draft of the report seen by The Telegraph.

The review by William Shawcross, former head of the Charity Commission, should state that the “unacceptable” cases have undermined Prevent’s ability to “undertake effective work to counter radicalisation”.

As part of the deradicalization prevention strategy introduced after the 9/11 attacks, groups and charities received taxpayer money to turn young Muslims away from terrorism.

But the review finds that a number of organizations continued to promote extreme Islamist ideas.

“These findings raise serious questions about whether Prevent is knowingly adopting this approach and, if not, whether he performs robust due diligence procedures and has an acceptable level of understanding of Islamist extremism,” the report said.

The finding that government-funded groups have been promoting extremism is likely to cause a backlash, with the UK facing steep tax hikes in the new year.

The relationship has taken nearly two years since Shawcross was appointed in January 2021 by Priti Patel, then Home Secretary, with Home Office lawyers working to thwart potential libel actions from any biased group.

This led to fears among Shawcross supporters that the review could be watered down for fear of provoking allegations of Islamophobia and stirring up tension in the community. One said: “Home Office officials are terrified of giving the impression that they are picking on Muslims.”

But on Wednesday, government sources denied there was any “redacting” or that the report was delayed by a row between Suella Braverman, the home secretary, and Michael Gove, the leveling secretary, over the removal of names.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “The review will be published in due course. It remains fair that we take the time to prepare and deliver a thoughtful response.”

The long-awaited revision is expected to criticize Prevent for straying from his “core mission” of preventing people from becoming terrorists by placing too much emphasis on treating them as victims.

Prevent is also expected to be “out of place” with the rest of the counter-terrorism system by focusing on right-wing extremism at the expense of the Islamist threat, which accounts for the vast majority of terrorist attacks.

When out of office in the summer, Gove said it would be a “key test” for the government to take the Shawcross report seriously, not “kick it into the tall grass” or water it down so it wouldn’t “see the light of day”.

In the draft review, Shawcross says he looked at some of the hundreds of millions of pounds in funding Prevent has distributed, finding that the money “too often goes to generic projects” and, in some cases, even to organizations that had “promoted extremist narratives ”.

“During the review, I realized that some Prevent-funded groups promote extremism or have ties to extremists,” he says. “I found unacceptable examples of some of these organizations promoting Islamic extremist sentiments, or validating and associating with Islamic extremists.”

“Vital tool for early intervention”

The report cites four examples from open source research, including the leader of a Prevent-funded civil society organization who made public statements “friendly and supportive” of the Taliban.

He had referred to militant Islamist groups proscribed in the UK as “so-called terrorists” and “legitimate resistance groups”, and said Muslim members of the armed forces should refuse the orders. You also said that Prevent’s legal duty threatened “a McCarthyist witch-hunt against Muslims.”

A second housed Islamist figures who had engaged in “hate rhetoric” against liberal Muslims and Muslim minorities, while the founder of a third had championed the views of an organization known for hosting extremist speakers. In a quarter, senior figures and staff members were found to be connected to Islamist networks.

“Prevent disappoints the vast majority of Muslims in this country when it gives legitimacy and influence to those who promote Islamist narratives,” the report said.

Mr Shawcross says officials involved in Prevent could focus on right-wing extremism “beyond the real threat it poses” to “try to fend off allegations” that his previous focus on Islamic extremists was “stigmatizing minority communities “.

“It is correct that Prevent is increasingly concerned about the growing threat from the far right. But the facts clearly show that the deadliest threat in the last 20 years has come from Islamism, and this threat continues to persist,” the report said.

It warns of a concerted campaign “led by a number of Islamist groups to undermine and delegitimize Prevent”, also “stirring resentment and mistrust” of the plan among British Muslims.

The Downing Street spokesman said: “We have always said Prevent remains a vital tool for early intervention and safeguarding.” Mr Shawcross declined to comment.

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