Internet video-streaming sites such as YouTube are being pressed to take down a film featuring two British Muslims urging other young men to fight in Syria, Downing Street has said. A No 10 spokeswoman said the Government had already succeeded in removing 15,000 pieces of extremist material from the internet since starting a drive in December to block jihadi terrorists from using online messages to recruit Muslims in Britain to their cause.
The spokeswoman confirmed that Prime Minister David Cameron regards the hosting of such material on an online video-streaming site as inappropriate and said the authorities were in talks to ensure it is removed. The recruitment video for the group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) features two young men from Cardiff, 20-year-olds Nasser Muthana and Reyaad Khan. Nasser's younger brother Aseel, 17, is also thought to have travelled to Syria.
The Downing Street spokeswoman told a regular Westminster media briefing: "We do think it is extremely important to be looking at what there is online and working with the internet industry to remove terrorist material hosted in the UK or overseas. Since December we have removed over 15,000 pieces of terrorist-related content from the internet... That reflects the scale of the problem, but it also reflects the good relationship we have with the industry.
"The overall total is 34,000 pieces since January 2010. The increase in activity since December reflects the work of the Government's Extremism Task Force, which reported in December and highlighted that this was one of the areas where we should seek to take further action."
The spokeswoman added: "We will keep working to do all we can to make sure there is not material online promoting terrorist activity. We will be working with the industry to make sure this type of online material is not available."
A Muslim leader has spoken of his fears that widespread publicity given to Muthana and Khan's video will encourage other "susceptible" young men to travel to Syria to fight. Sheikh Zane Abdo, imam of the South Wales Islamic Centre, told BBC1's Breakfast: "I guarantee that many young people who are very susceptible to this type of message will have watched that video and maybe have been encouraged to now go and follow in the footsteps of Nasser and his brother, which is a real problem, the fact that a platform has been given to this video that really shouldn't have been give."
His fears were echoed by Sir Peter Fahy, Greater Manchester Chief Constable and lead on the Prevent counter-terrorism strategy for the Association of Chief Police Officers. He warned that the video made the young men's trip look like a "Boy Scout camp" when the reality was "very brutal, very callous".
"The Government does have some funding and is putting material on the internet but really we need the whole of the community to counter this narrative," he told ITV's Good Morning Britain. "The trouble with this Isis video is it makes it look like a Boy Scout camp going out there, when in fact what they are calling for is Muslims to go out to kill fellow Muslims, often in cold blood, with summary executions of conscript soldiers and police officers.
"It is a very, very brutal thing they are calling on fellow Muslims to go and do. We need to get this message across. The trouble with that particular video is it makes it look very glamorous, that they are going on an adventure, when the reality is actually very brutal, very callous." Sheikh Abdo, who knew Muthana and Khan, said the brothers had been "normal" teenagers before they went through a "very strange period" and started expressing "certain views".
"The brothers were normal teenagers, very well-spoken, very sincere, liked watching movies, did a lot of school, normal teenagers," he said. "There was nothing that suggested that they were going to go down the route that they went down. However, they went through a very strange period when they said they were becoming quite serious in their faith and then began to start to expressing certain views that were quite political, particularly the older brother.
"Neither of them in the past year and a half to two years frequented this mosque or attended any of the sermons or any of my classes that I have been giving for the past three and a half years." Khan, who is said to have once dreamed of becoming Britain's first Asian prime minister, and Nasser, who had once planned to go to medical school, went to the same school in Cardiff, it was reported.
Khan's mother, who has not been identified, appealed to her only son to come home, in a tearful interview with Sky News. She also said the young men had been "brainwashed". "He is honest, always caring for his family, he always wanted to be there for them. He was one of the best boys a mother could ever want," she said.
"I think they are brainwashed into thinking they are going to help people. I don't know who it is but there is someone behind them, keeping these young, innocent boys, brainwashing them into thinking they are going to help people. There is someone behind them, I don't know who."
Ahmed Muthana, father of Nasser and Aseel, also spoke of his devastation after seeing Nasser on the video. The 57-year-old retired electrical engineer told The Guardian newspaper that he felt as if a bomb had hit his Cardiff home when he saw the video. "I was shocked, I was sad, I cried. My wife collapsed, It feels as if the ground under my feet has disappeared," he said.
"This is my country. I came here aged 13 years old from Aden when I was orphaned," he added. "It is his country. He was born here in the hospital down the road. He has been educated here. He has betrayed Great Britain."
The warnings about the impact of the video came as security experts in the UK declared that the repercussions of Syria and the rise of Islamic extremism at home will be felt for "many years" to come. Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner and head of specialist operations, said Britain would feel the long-term consequences of the conflict, and young British Muslims who have travelled to fight in the war-torn country might commit violence when they returned.
Screengrab taken from YouTube of a video showing Islamist fighters, who claim to be British
Richard Barrett, a former head of counter-terrorism at MI6, estimated that "possibly up to 300 people have come back to the UK" already, and warned that intelligence services faced an "impossible" task in trying to track them. He told the BBC: "Clearly they'll have to prioritise and they'll have to choose those that they think are likely to pose the greatest risk.
"Beyond that I think they'll have to rely very much on members of the community and other people expressing their concern and worry about the behaviour of perhaps their returned friend or family member." He said that while recruiting networks across Europe suggested greater radicalisation than people just going on their own, it did not necessarily indicate that people would progress from fighting in Syria to being a terrorist at home.
The Financial Times reported that the Foreign Office was halving its counter-terrorism budget, slashing it from £30 million a year to £15 million as part of plans to cut £100 million from the department's budget by next year. But Chancellor George Osborne played down suggestions that the job of monitoring returning jihadis might be hampered by a shortage of funds.
He told BBC1's Breakfast: "There's no absence of money to keep our country safe. We've made a huge investment in security and counter-terrorism. I don't think it's a question of the money, because we've not only protected the counter-terrorism budget, we've increased funding for the security services."
The publicity over the video has come as US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Iraq to promote a power-sharing agreement in the wake of big gains by Isis in the north and west of the country. The insurgency by Isis, a Sunni Muslim extremist group, is said to have been fuelled by widespread anger against the Shia Muslim-led government.
Arriving in Luxembourg for talks with fellow EU foreign ministers, Foreign Secretary William Hague said: "The situation in Iraq is of deep concern to all European nations. I've discussed the situation over the weekend with Secretary Kerry, who has now arrived in Baghdad, and we all very strongly support his message in Iraq that political unity in Iraq and an inclusive government is absolutely fundamental to combating the extremists and the terror that has been brought by Isis to many parts of Iraq."
The Al-Manar centre, where the two Cardiff men reportedly worshipped, is right in the heart of city's student population - and only a few yards from Cardiff University Students' Union. It is located in two adjoining terraced houses in Glynrhondda Street - and only stands out from other properties because of a large banner above its main doors bearing the words "Have you discovered Islam??".
According to locals, volunteers from the centre are regularly involved in community projects and have recently carried out litter picks as well as feeding the homeless. The Al-Manar centre has denied that it was the source of radicalisation, instead blaming the internet. Haras Rafiq, from the anti-extremist think-tank the Quilliam Foundation, told Good Morning Britain that the strongest influence on young men who end up going out to the region was the internet.
"The strategies this Government have used actually haven't worked, there's a focus on just countering the violent extremists and forgetting about preventing people from getting there in the first place," he said. "Just as we have passionate people who are putting these jihad videos on, we have passionate people to counter and we need to empower those people."
Several worshippers arriving for prayers at Al Manar today said they were "surprised" to hear of a connection between the two Cardiff men and the Islamic centre. One Libyan national, who did not want to be named, said: "I have been coming here for around nine months. Our teachings here are about tolerance. I think these boys must have been brainwashed from the internet.
"I think they are young and naive. They have a big idea about oppression and yet they grow up here in safety in the UK. Most people in places like Syria, Iraq or Libya want the fighting to stop, not for more of it." Another worshipper, a man from Cardiff, added: "I am very surprised to hear two Cardiff boys have gone to Syria for jihad. I feel sorry for their father.
"There are mostly students who come here but I would say it's a moderate mosque. There are different ethnicities and nationalities who come here."
A third man in the recruitment video featuring the two young men from Cardiff is from Aberdeen, according to the BBC. Named only as Raqib, he is said to have been educated in the city after moving from Bangladesh at an early age, the broadcaster said. It was reported that his family moved to Leicester in the last couple of years.
Ibrahim Alwawi, imam of the Aberdeen Mosque and Islamic Centre told the BBC: "We, as the Muslim community in the city of Aberdeen, are shocked like everyone else. We are co-operating with the authorities as we usually do."