Extremist groups set to recruit freshers

August 18, 2006

Academics are warned about burying their heads in the sand, report Anna Fazackerley and Jessica Shepherd.

Universities have been warned this week that Islamist extremists are likely to target freshers fairs looking for recruits, fuelling accusations that politically correct academics are burying their heads in the sand about terrorism.

Shiraz Maher, who joined the radical group Hizb ut-Tahrir while studying at Leeds University but later renounced his membership, told The Times Higher that universities were "bread-and-butter" recruiting grounds for extremist groups.

He said: "If you go to freshers fairs at University College London, the School of Oriental and African Studies and the London School of Economics next month, you will find Hizb ut-Tahrir undercover.

"Vice-chancellors have been wilfully blind to the problem. Recruitment of students is going on. That is categorical. Universities are not on top of this."

Bernie Taffs, head of security at the LSE, said that during freshers week last year he called the police after seeing extremist Islamist groups giving out leaflets and putting up posters.

Bill Durodie, senior lecturer in risk and security at Cranfield University, agreed that freshers fairs could be a target. He said: "The worry is that students might find a paucity of other groups offering coherent arguments."

Terrorism experts agreed this week that universities could not afford to ignore the dangers of religious extremism on campus.

Michael Clarke, director of the International Policy Institute at King's College London, said: "People are tiptoeing around issues by trying to be politically correct. We don't want to be heavy-handed in terms of surveillance at universities, but we also have to establish boundaries."

David Capitanchik, honorary senior lecturer in politics at Aberdeen University, said that three radical Islamic groups - Hizb ut-Tahrir, Al-Muhajiroun and the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK - were targeting British universities.

He said: "I would say that these organisations have perfected the art of running rings round universities' very loose oversight mechanisms. Hence, the great concern among the UK's security services."

Anthony Glees, director of Brunel University's Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies, said:

"Universities are still not aware who may be coming on to their campuses to speak. We have been told of radical speakers coming to halls of residence early in the morning."

But Universities UK reacted angrily to such accusations this week. A spokesperson said: "We refute any claim that universities are somehow complacent in tackling extremism on campus.

Universities are tackling this issue head on - they consult student groups, community leaders and, where necessary, work with police and other authorities."

He added: "It's simply irresponsible to imply that this issue is being ignored by universities."

A UCL spokeswoman said that the university had a close relationship with its student societies and was in a good position to detect and deal with extremist activities.

She said: "Non-UCL-affiliated organisations found to be campaigning on UCL premises without permission will be asked to leave the premises."

Both the LSE and Soas were unavailable for comment.


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