Is Birmingham's Sparkbrook the beating heart of British jihad?
GETTY Is Sparkbrook in Birmingham a no go zone?
This is the Birmingham suburb labelled a “terror hotspot” and a “no-go zone” and is compared with Brussels’ Molenbeek - the infamous region responsible for producing the Paris gunmen and a host of Syria-bound extremists.
Just five wards in the heartland of the multicultural Midlands have yielded some of Britain’s most notorious jihadis - not least Westminster attacker Khalid Masood.
Earlier this month, The Henry Jackson Report into terror in Britain identified 26 people from Sparkbrook and the surrounding area that are currently in prison for terror related offences.
Express.co.uk's Patrick Christys and Zoie O'Brien went to Birmingham to investigate why the city is gaining a reputation as Britain's jihadi capital.
The wards in Birmingham - Springfield, Sparkbrook, Hodge Hill, Washwood Heath and Bordesley Green - produced more terrorists than anywhere else in the country bar London.
Britain's first al-Qaeda inspired terrorist, Moinal Abedin, turned his Sparkbrook home into a bomb factory in 2002, while last year Tareena Shakil was jailed for taking her toddler to join Islamic State from their home in the suburb.
Parviz Khan, who also lived in the area, was jailed for plotting to behead a soldier and Irfan Khalid was put behind bars in 2013 for leaving involved with an al-Qaeda cell plotting a bomb attack.
And Westminster attacker, Khalid Masood, left his home in nearby Edgbaston on March 21, before attacking innocent people on Westminster Bridge the following day, mowing down tourists and stabbing PC Keith Palmer to death.
Birmingham businessmen, religious leaders, councillors, parents, and community figures admit there are “issues” in their city - but when faced with the question on whether it is the beating heart of British jihadism, most will tell you no.
Leading figures such as Councillor Tony Kennedy and the manager of the anti-extremism Prevent programme, Waqar Ahmed, were keen to point out most of these were part of two jihadi gangs and not 39 separate terrorists operating independently.
But there are clear concerns in the area and a fear young men are being recruited for terror.
PATRICK CHRISTYS The multi-faith group had differing views about Sparkbrook's alleged 'no go' nature
Express.co.uk can exclusively reveal 375 people have been referred to the anti-extremism, drug and alcohol misuse charity Kikit, in Sparkbrook, in the last 12 months alone.
Of those, 70 required intensive rehabilitation and two had already booked flights to Syria to fight alongside Islamic State.
The predominantly Muslim area is riddled with crime, drugs and poverty, but there is an uprising – a community determined to come together to deliver peace and safety.
Mohammed Ashfaq, a coordinator for Kikit, said it was a combination of substance abuse, poverty and proactive hate preachers, usually operating online from afar, which is responsible for radicalisation in Sparkbrook.
PATRICK CHRISTYS Mohammad Khalid, an imam at Sparkbrook Islamic Centre, thinks ISIS have nothing to do with Islam
PATRICK CHRISTYS Sparkbrook's Masjid and Islamic Centre insist extremists haven't infiltrated the place of worshi
Mr Ashfaq said: "The people getting involved with extremism have a range of vulnerabilities.
"They see jihad as a shortcut to redemption for their past wrongs and are being lied to about the Koran and getting roped into something way above their mental capacity.
"They trust these people, but they're being lied to."
Prevent leader Mr Ahmed said his main issue with the Henry Jackson Society report is only Birmingham and London are broken down by ward.
So, there may be wards in other counties which produce more terrorists- but this is not reflected.
PATRICK CHRISTYS Before praying, Muslims must wash their bodies in this room
A spokesman for the Henry Jackson Society said the reason Birmingham and London were broken down into wards while other parts of the country were not was simply because there were more terror related offences in those two cities. He added the methodology and information gathering process was fair, balanced and objective.
Mr Ahmed also claimed Government-backed Prevent programme is working.
ISIS terrorists have been able to target vulnerable people online in a way “we were unprepared for”, Mr Ahmed says.
But he adds Prevent is catching up quickly. Nationally 150 journeys to Syria were stopped last year with people identified and dealt with, he said.
In Sparkbrook, community outreach programmes are gathering speed, amid a push to purge the community of crime.
PATRICK CHRISTYS The female prayer room is separate from the male prayer room, in accordance with Islamic law
However, Mr Ahmed strongly rejects the notion anywhere in Birmingham is a no-go zone.
He said: “There are issues here, of course, as there are in every community.
“But to call the problem endemic - now that is a stretch.”
The perceived causes of terror are not going away, however, says Councillor Tristan Chatfield who claims, of Birmingham's 1.1 million population, around 70 per cent are living in some form of poverty.
He said this makes them susceptible to poisonous ideology from those spouting hatred about Britain's lack of care towards young immigrants and how paradise awaits if they do what they believe to be Allah's bidding.
PATRICK CHRISTYS This room is where weddings can be held, in backs onto a kitchen area for catering
A multi-faith meeting, which included a prominent local Muslim who sits on the board of several mosques, Mohammed Ramzan, two Christian reverends, Richard Sudworth and Becky Allan, Sparkbrook councillor Mohammad Azim, a Hindhu couple, Shardalavinga and Viran, and an English literacy community worker Michelle Samian attempted to get to the bottom of Sparkbrook's reputation.
But it was another attendee, resident Paul Venn, who gave the most damning account of the area's flaws.
He said: "A terrorist lived opposite me before he was put in prison for 15 years. This is the jihadi capital. It's a closed-off community and it upsets community cohesion.
"If a terror attack happened here it would be disastrous. There would be riots.
"There's a closed-off mentality and Muslims aren't doing enough to tackle extremism. They have to teach their children to be a part of British life."
PATRICK CHRISTYS There are leaflets inside the Sparkbrook mosque preaching tolerance
Reverend Allan vehemently disagreed with Mr Venn's remarks while Reverand Sudworth added the notion of Sparkbrook being a no-go zone was borne out of "a lack of outside engagement with the community”.
He added he has felt "hospitality and generosity unlike anywhere else" during his time in the area.
Both Muslims present at the discussion wanted to tackle the notion hate preachers had infiltrated mosques and set about poisoning young minds.
Mr Azim said: "Who knows why Birmingham came out so badly in the Henry Jackson report but the reality is these people are being radicalised online, not by hate preachers or mosques."
PATRICK CHRISTYS This funny poster is a comical way of reminding the congregation about their responsibilities
Mr Ramzan added: "It's nothing to do with the mosques. I sit on the board of a number of them and their teachings are nothing to do with terrorism. The problem is Islamophobia."
Police installed 218 cameras in predominately Muslim areas under the guise they were number plate recognition devices - actually, they were aimed at combatting terrorist activity.
There was outrage in the community at the lack of public consultation and police were forced to issue a humiliating apology and remove the cameras, which were paid for with £3million of Government funding.
Local Muslims felt victimised and betrayed, and many still do.
The United Kingdom Islamic Mission (UKIM) runs Sparkbrook Mosque in Anderton Road - where new programmes of education are the focus.
Imam Mohammad Khalid is among a group of Islamic scholars attempting to combat the terror message by reaching out to young Muslims.
He said: “Our task here is to educate the community, the Muslim youth.
“We do not know how these people can carry out attacks in the name of Islam.
“In Islam there is not extremism.”
Mr Khalid does not deny people with extreme views may attend any number of mosques in Birmingham - but insists anyone who admits this publicly will be ejected and reported.
PATRICK CHRISTYS The mosque even has its own morgue
He said: “There are no mosques involved in this. Maybe these people do pray, but it is quietly.
“If someone came to the mosque and behaved in a way, or asked questioned which was concerning, they would not be made to leave.
“These people have nothing to do with any Islamic institute, any mosque.
“We do not know how they become radical, but there are no hate preachers in the mosques.
“Those people should be dealt with by the Government. They should lock them up and throw away the key.”
Mosque leaders, including Sayyid Mushtaq Ahmed Shah, have set out to provide a “counter ideology” online, by putting up correct interpretations of the Koran.
He said: “We are educating the Muslim youth, we are using classes and courses to show them the correct ways.”
Sparkbrook central mosque is a wedding venue, undertakers, place of worship and eduction centre all in one - it is the beating heart of the Muslim community in the area.
All of those involved here claim Sparkbrook is a “brilliant area” where they feel safe.
Mr Shah said: “There are white families who stayed here who say this is the best area to be in, they feel safe.”