Too much PREVENT: Did fundamentalism save Adrian Ajao from self-destruction and lead Khalid Masood to murder?
Adrian Ajao embraced a life of hard drugs, heavy alcohol and extreme violence, writes Dr Lewis Herrington - an expert in international security at Loughborough University.
From his first arrest for criminal damage, in 1983, to being sentenced for stabbing someone two decades later, Ajao was a violent offender with 20 convictions to his name.
Then, during a six month prison sentence in 2003, he discovered Islam.
For the first time in his life, he engaged in a structured daily programme that consisted of prayers, meetings at mosques with fellow Muslims and carrying the message to others.
Khalid Masood was born.
And for the next 14 years, there was no more violence, no more drugs and no more alcohol.
Neighbours described Masood as a polite family man, who was very pleasant, albeit shy, and yet keen to help others – a complete contrast to his former life as Ajao.
Then, in what might be described as a ‘spiritual awakening’, there appears to have been a transformation of character.
He became nomadic, never settling anywhere for long, and the communities he did temporarily call home were hotbeds of radicalisation and known for nurturing fanaticism.
Between 2010 and 2013, Masood lived in the same Luton community and attended the same Luton mosque as Mohammed Ahmed and Umar Ashad - two men jailed in 2013 for planning a terrorist attack against a British Army base.
Widely described as a breeding ground for extremists, Luton hosted a number of high profile public events led by Islamic Fundamentalist group Islam4UK – directed by hate-preacher Anjem Choudary until his imprisonment last year for urging support of ISIS.
Masood left there in 2013, and moved to Forest Gate, in the East London borough of Newham – an area which the district’s religious leaders claim which has been targeted by the government’s anti-extremist programme known as PREVENT.
Local Imams openly criticised the national programme saying it has directly led to division and a breakdown in trust within the community.
Then, at some point between 2013 and 2016, Masood relocated to Stratford, also in East London, continuing the pattern of settling in areas connected with radical activity.
Stratford appeared on the Security Services radar in 2014 when two brothers from the area were convicted and sentenced to three years in prison for having fought alongside ISIS the previous year.
In 2016, Masood and his family then relocated to Birmingham, a city for which neither Masood nor his wife were familiar.
Between 1998 and 2013, 30 individuals from the city were convicted of terrorism related offences including three men sentenced in 2013 to lengthy jail terms for plotting to repeat the July 2005 London bombings.
In this series of movements, taking into account the histories of the areas in which he settled, there is a possibility that Masood relocated not because of his involvement with Islam, but rather with fundamentalism – which might have been a key element in maintaining the emotional stability that had transformed him from a violent thug into a family man.
On the morning before the Westminster attack, Masood told hotel staff in Brighton that “[London] it ain’t what it used to be”.
What exactly did he mean by this?
What did London used to be like?
Masood could have been referring to the Islamic fundamentalist movement that provided followers with a structure and a purpose, the kind of environment that allowed men like Masood to get out of themselves and avoid having to face up to the problems that had previously led them to drugs, alcohol and violence.
In the past, activists were afforded the same freedoms to express opinions as anybody else in the United Kingdom.
Then, in 2010, the Government banned the group Islam4UK – an organisation led by hate preacher Anjem Choudary, who was jailed for encouraging support of ISIS – and made it a criminal offence to be a member of such radical outfits.
By doing this it made it increasingly difficult to organise rallies and protests in the name of extremist Islam.
Fundamentalists had lost their public voice and were being heavily suppressed by the PREVENT programme, which was jailing activists and zealots for speaking out in support of Islamic State - something which the Muslim comminuty had also condemned.
In taking away the liberal right of free assembly, the right to protest and the right to have a voice however repugnant, did the Government’s counter radicalisation programme inadvertently isolated individuals like Masood, and unintentionally create the terrorists they were designed to PREVENT?