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Foreign Correspondent -

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WILLIAMS: I’m Philip Williams in London and this is Russell Square underground station. Ten years ago hundreds of shocked and injured Londoners came staggering into the fresh air. Deep underground, three separate explosions had caused mayhem. This was Britain’s brutal introduction to home-grown Islamic terrorism. The perpetrators were born and raised in England, they were inspired by the example of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda and its online teachings.

But today all over the Western world, young men and women are being seduced by social media techniques that are far more sophisticated and effective than anything al Qaeda could have ever managed and they’re being drawn into the self-styled caliphate of the Islamic State.

Not just young men but young women too as Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, recently told the House of Representatives.

MINISTER JULIE BISHOP: [February 25, 2015] “Over five hundred women are believed to have come from Western countries. Thirty to forty Australian women are known to be either engaging in or supporting terrorist activities in Syria, Iraq and here in Australia”.

WILLIAMS: Julie Bishop added that given Islamic State’s notorious treatment of women that defies all logic. But as tonight’s report from the BBC makes clear, the lure of Islamic State is more subtle and more powerful than mere logic.

MACKINTOSH: Flames of War - a slick Hollywood style recruitment video for IS, the so-called Islamic State. Glorifying and glamorising terror, these internet videos are being watched in teenage bedrooms around the country.

AAMER ANWAR: [lawyer] “There’s nothing religious about them, there’s nothing loving about them because they’re ripping the heart out of our community. They are like paedophiles, they’re groomers. They’re getting their claws into young people and they’re pulling them away from their families that care and love for them”.

NOSHABAH: “There is a feeling and a sense that it’s a start of a revolution so they all think that we’re going to be sort of the generation that’s made all of this happen, we’re going to be remembered for ages”.

MACKINTOSH: To their friends, the 16 year old Halane twins - Zahra and Salma from Chorlton in Manchester - seemed like normal school girls.

NOSHABAH: [schoolfriend] “I’ve got some pictures from the Year 11 leaver’s assembly. She just looks really happy and like really sad at the same time because they were so dedicated to school that they didn’t want to leave, like they were really upset about leaving and stuff. They were friends with every single person. Like you’d walk around the corridor and they’d smile at you or they’d wave. They’d never ignore you”.

MACKINTOSH: This is the first time Noshabah has been interviewed about the twins.

NOSHABAH: “They were so confident and they were so loud and like just so bright and enthusiastic about every single thing. They were really, really smart. They were always in the library. They were like part of everything, like ICT Club, Maths Club. They were really good public speakers. They never sort of shied away from anything”.

MACKINTOSH: Islamic fundamentalism has come a long way since the bearded old men of the Taliban and al Qaeda. Somehow IS now appeals to bright, young British teenagers like the Halane twins.

AAMER ANWAR: “They are very media savvy. They’re very switched on in terms of their online presence and arguments and religion and it’s almost as though the terrain has been left wide open for this organisation and others, to recruit and to use the propaganda to good purpose and to brainwash”.

MACKINTOSH: The twins were star students with 28 GCSEs between them. They wanted to be doctors. They came from a devout Somali family, but they didn’t bring their religion to school.

NOSHABAH: “We never had a conversation about Islam. They weren’t like extreme jihadis, they weren’t preaching in school. You know they were just normal teenage girls”.

MACKINTOSH: At the end of the summer term last year, the two girls flew to Istanbul in Turkey. Then they travelled to the border town of Akcakale and crossed into Syria.

NOSHABAH: “Them going out there, the main thing was like how they found the money to go out there, you know? Like how have they afforded a ticket? How have they planned everything like their visa and all those sort of things? When you’re going on holiday your parents sort that out so for them to take.... they must have been really responsible about it”.

NEWSREADER: “Counter terrorism police are investigating the disappearance of twin 16 year old girls who they believe have travelled to Syria”.

NEWSREADER: “The aunt of a 15 year old schoolgirl who it’s feared has travelled to Syria after being radicalised on line…”.

NEWSREADER: “West Midlands Police are investigating reports that a 25 year old Birmingham woman and her one year old child have travelled to Syria”.

MACKINTOSH: The police know that 22 British women and girls have travelled to Syria - but they think another 40 could have gone without reported missing. They’re fighting a losing battle against the tide of jihadi propaganda. IS is one of the few terror groups to actively target women. They’ve proclaimed a caliphate, a so-called Islamic State across Syria and Iraq. They want it to spread across the Middle East. Because of this, they need women to come and start families.

DR KATHERINE BROWN: [King’s College, London] “Islamic State is saying you can be a hero, you can be a warrior but not in picking up a Kalashnikov and a sword, but actually by being part of the new state”.

MACKINTOSH: One social media account even offers a match making service.

WEBSITE: “Bismillah! The account aimed at brothers and sisters living in Syria, helping them to find their future halal spouse. Want to marry a mujahid in Syria? Then DM in your age, languages and marital status today. Allah is most generous!”.

MACKINTOSH: Soon after they arrived in Syria, the Halane twins married Islamic State fighters. In the middle of a war zone, they began posting their own extremist messages on social media. In September they celebrated the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks that killed thousands.

ZAHRA HALANE POST: “Happy 9/11. Happiest day of my life. Hopefully more to come. InShallah.
[in another post] I’m going to practice my beheading skills on a chicken. It looks fun”.

MACKINTOSH: The same month their identities were revealed in the press, they were dubbed the Terror Twins and they loved it.

ZAHRA HALANE POST: “I love the name ‘terror twins’ because it makes me sound scary. ISIS love it when they make us sound scary because it makes us a big threat”.

MACKINTOSH: The twins are not part of the IS online army. There are now believed to be more than 45,000 separate accounts linked to the terror group. British teenagers Kadiza Sultana, Amira Abase and Shamima Begum from East London are also thought to have been radicalised online.

RENU BEGUM: [Shamima Begum’s sister] “We just want her to come home. If you watch this baby please come home [upset]. Mum needs you more than anything in the world. You’re our baby and we just want you home, we want you safe. Just contact anybody, let them know that you need help and you’ve got all the help in the world. You’re not in any trouble here. We all love you. If anybody’s convinced you of anything then they’re wrong. We love you more than anybody that could ever love you”.

MACKINTOSH: We now know that just before the girls disappeared, Shamima Begum sent a message on social media. She tried to make contact with another British woman who was already in Syria.

SHAMIMA BEGUM CHAT ON LINE: “Follow me so I can DM you back”.

MACKINTOSH: That woman is a key online propagandist for IS. She calls herself Umm Layth - Mother of the Lion.

UMM LAYTH POST: “Follow the example of your brothers from Woolwich, Texas and Boston etc. Have no fear. Allah is always with the believers”.

MACKINTOSH: Digging into Umm Layth’s online world reveals hundreds of postings aimed at British girls. They contain practical advice on how to get to Syria and what life is like once you get there.

UMM LAYTH POST: “Many sisters ask me to give them a list of what they should bring with them from the West and what they will need here. For the winter you will most likely need a good pair of boots and a thick warm coat. The winters here are freezing. Trust me. I’m from the North of Britain and even still I found it cold”.

MACKINTOSH: Like most online jihadis, Umm Layth’s real identity was a secret, but she is obviously British and her blogs caught the attention of a young journalist in Glasgow.

KHALEDA RAHMAN: [journalist] “They made me quite angry because not only was she, you know, trying to lure young people over to Syria, she was giving them step by step instructions as to how to do it”.

MACKINTOSH: Khaleda Rahman was a trainee with Mail Online in Glasgow. She decided to try and track down the mysterious Umm Layth.

KHALEDA RAHMAN: “One of the things that led us to the fact that she was from Glasgow was her talking about a couple of cricket teams from the south side of the city. There were several references to Pakistan and tweets where she suggested that maybe she was Pakistani”.

MACKINTOSH: A bit more detective work uncovered a teenage posting, including the name Aqsa, as well as the possible year she was born in. The Register of Births at Glasgow Town Hall narrowed down the search further.

KHALEDA RAHMAN: “When Aqsa, and 1994, and Glasgow was put into the system, there was only one hit - it was Aqsa Mahmood”.

MACKINTOSH: With the secret out and reporters on their doorstep, Aqsa Mahmood’s parents held a press conference.

AAMER ANWAR [Mahmood family lawyer]: “Aqsa was always a very sweet, peaceful, intelligent child and inquisitive about everything. All parents want to be proud of their children, but sadly we now feel nothing but sorrow and shame for Aqsa. Aqsa you have torn the heart out of our family and changed our lives forever. Please come home”.

KHALEDA RAHMAN: “It was so emotional. I sat in the third row and I felt like I couldn’t have sat any closer because even from back there I was, you know, it was making me want to cry and all I could think was, you know, this is how my family would feel if I did something like that. I could relate so much to it because you know her father could have been my father, her mother could have been mine. You know, by some random coincidence, her mother had the same name as I do”.

MACKINTOSH: Aqsa Mahmood was unmasked in September last year. By then IS had taken control of large parts of Iraq and Syria. There are around 550 Western women inside the Islamic State. They’ve become the centre of a huge online community, a powerful weapon for Islamic State recruitment.

DR KATHERINE BROWN: “What we’re looking at is a Twitter account of a young woman and just to give you a sense of the kinds of things they’re tweeting about”.

MACKINTOSH: Katherine Brown from King’s College monitors the social media postings of British jihadists abroad.

DR KATHERINE BROWN: “What we see here is we’re talking about everyday life, we’re talking about different things that’s going on so... so many gunshots in Raqqah and then we have a picture here of food in Raqqah”.

MACKINTOSH: Analysing the material reveals a remarkable hidden world. The trivial chat of teenagers is missed with religious extremism. The girls often post about things they need and can’t get in Syria.

POST: “Can you bring me Moroccan oil for hair K, thanks. It will be appreciated lol”.

MACKINTOSH: The posts are full of typical teenage life - smileys, fashion tips, food and pictures of kittens.

DR KATHERINE BROWN: “This is a great insight into the life of a teenager. It’s kittens, it’s about dress, it’s about clothing, it’s about family, it’s about the politics, about supporting Islamic State. It’s also saying look the line between me in Iraq and Syria in Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester, London - wherever - is not so great. So it has that appeal. Because if an account or if an online page is so negative or it’s just pronouncement after pronouncement after pronouncement, it becomes like listening to your parents or your school teacher. Where’s the fun in that? Why would you listen to them anymore? And you say look I can still be an individual but I’m in Iraq and Syria - come join”.

MACKINTOSH: The online propagandists are keen to show how easy life can be in the Islamic State. One woman posted these claims on line.

WOMAN: “We don’t pay rent here. Houses are free. We pay neither electric, nor water bills. We are given monthly grocery supplies - spaghetti, pasta, canned foods, rice and eggs. Monthly allowances are given not only to husband and wife but also for each child. Medical check-ups and medication are free. The Islamic State pays on behalf of you”.

MACKINTOSH: The online community also denies some of the most brutal crimes committed in the name of Islam.

DR KATHERINE BROWN: “When there were reports and video footage of Islamic State committing atrocities, again the women say no, no that’s made up. That’s not real. The Islamic State haven’t committed a single crime. Everything they’ve done has been in accordance with Sharia. Everything they’ve done has been in defence”.

MACKINTOSH: This mixture of politics, religion and teenage chat seems trivial but it can help turn a normal girl into a religious extremist in the space of just a few months. Umm Layth, Glasgow student Aqsa Mahmood, became a jihadist fanatic without even leaving her bedroom.

AAMER ANWAR: “From all accounts she was a loving, a kind caring individual, a very intelligent young woman who was family orientated and had never caused any problems to her family. It was a great set up. You know the family were liberal in their views, religion wasn’t enforced on their children”.

MACKINTOSH: The Mahmoods came to Britain from Pakistan in the 1970s and settled in Glasgow. Aqsa’s father ran a hotel. The family were cricket fanatics and Mr Mahmood became the first Pakistani to play cricket for Scotland.

AAMER ANWAR: “She was given the best education that money could buy. She was sent to a top private school in Glasgow, Craigholme and she wanted to be a doctor”.

MACKINTOSH: Digging deeper into Aqsa’s online life reveals the journey she took towards the Islamic State. Back in 2013 her blog contained typical teenage posts.

AQSA MAHMOOD POST: “Who remembers that ghoul episode of Scooby Doo? That was my childhood basically”.
[another post] “I’m feeling so lazy today, I might watch a film. It feels like it’s been ages since I’ve done that”.

MACKINTOSH: But we now know that Aqsa began watching online videos of radical Islamist preachers. Her favourite was Australian Feiz Mohamed.

SHEIKH FEIZ MOHAMMED: [online sermon posted July 2011] “So the believer is aware that he will die sooner or later. And most certainly he would prefer an honourable death than an ordinary death. An honourable death, than an ordinary death. And the most honourable death is to die for the cause of Islam, to be a martyr of faith and today, many parents they prevent their children from attending lessons. They prevent their children from attending lessons - why? They fear that they might create or place in their hearts the love, just a bit of the love of sacrificing their lives for Allah”.

AQSA MAHMOOD POST: “Sheik Feiz Mohammed is my kind of Sheik. He doesn’t beat around the bush, he just says it like it is”.

MACKINTOSH: The most powerful tool for the extremist recruiters is the politics of the Middle East. Many Muslims around the world are opposed to Western foreign policy in the region. American and British support for Israel and especially attitudes to the war in Gaza have upset many and over the last 15 years, wars across the Muslim world have been hugely controversial.

AAMER ANWAR: “In every Muslim household in this country there is repeated anger when you switch on the news, whether it be from young people, old people, about what’s happening in the Middle East, in Palestine, in Syria, in Iraq, Guantanamo”.

MACKINTOSH: The war in Syria began as a struggle for democracy against the ruthless and brutal dictatorship of Bashar al Assad. But unlike other conflicts, Western governments didn’t intervene as thousands of innocent Muslims were slaughtered.

AQSA MAHMOOD: “Why did NATO unitedly overthrow the Taliban and Saddam Hussein and then sit idle against the regime against Bashar Assad? We will never forget you brothers and sisters in Syria. Whether you are outside the prison or still inside the prisons enduring the severity of the tortures”.

MACKINTOSH: In their videos IS claim to be the only credible force combating the Syrian dictator.

SOLDIER: “In the 17th division military base just outside the city of Raqqah, and we’re here with the soldiers of Bashar. You can see them now digging their own graves in the very place where they were stationed. This is the end that they face. This is the end of every Yused, Kuffar that we get a hold of”.

MACKINTOSH: For Aqsa Mahmood the politics soon turned into religious bigotry. She insults Shia Muslims who follow a different version of the Muslim faith. The hard line Sunnis of IS have massacred thousands of Shias and destroyed their mosques. Most Shia and Sunni Muslims live together in peace, but in her blog Aqsa claims that Shias are worse than Kuffars - non believers - because of their different religious beliefs.

AQSA MAHMOOD POST: “They, the Shias, are even worse than the Kuffar because the Kuffar completely reject Tawhid but they are trying to change Tawhid to their whims and desires. If you want to be all chummy-chummy with those who insult my mother and curse the companions then go ahead. But I would rather befriend a pig before I go near that lot for unity”.

MACKINTOSH: Just before she left, Aqsa posted a news story about two Norwegian girls who made the Hijra journey to Syria.

AQSA MAHMOOD POST: “I am getting so halal jealous of all those who’ve recently made Hijra to Bilad Sham fisabilillah. May Allah keep them steadfast”.

MACKINTOSH: Finally there was this picture - and an image of a plane taking off.

AQSA MAHMOOD POST: “Sometimes it’s better to just leave it all and just breathe”.

MACKINTOSH: Three months later the family got a phone call from Aqsa who was in Syria and a fully paid up member of IS.

AAMER ANWAR: “November she left and by February she’s contacting the family to say that she’s marrying an ISIS fighter seeking their permission or blessing and what could they do? There was nothing they could do. She was in ISIS by then and now 15 months later we know she is a poster girl recruit, a high value recruit for ISIS who’s been regularly plugged on blogs and in the media”.

MACKINTOSH: As an active blogger and recruiter for IS, Aqsa Mahmood posts tips and advice for women thinking of joining.

AQSA MAHMOOD: “Your day will revolve around cooking, cleaning, looking after and sometimes even educating children. And that’s the reality my dear sisters. We are created to be mothers and wives as much as the Western society has warped your views on this with a hidden feminist mentality”.

MACKINTOSH: She even gives advice on how to deal with your parents once you’ve left.

AQSA MAHMOOD: “The first phone call you make once you cross the borders is one of the most difficult things you’ll ever have to do. Your parents are already worried enough over where you are, whether you’re okay and what’s happened. Sometimes it would be easier for you to accept your parents disowning you and wanting nothing to do with you. But when you hear them sob and beg like crazy on the phone for you to come back, it’s so hard”.

MACKINTOSH: At the age of 20, Aqsa Mahmood’s journey from Glasgow student to full blown jihadi was complete. She wrote this directly to her mother.

AQSA MAHMOOD POST: “They will question and bring doubt upon your upbringing and your values. But my mother, you have raised a lioness among a land of cowards. So forgive me, my love, I left without warning. Forgive me ya Umee. I’ve left and I know you’ve accepted I’m never coming back”.

MACKINTOSH: The three schoolgirls from Bethnal Green are now thought to be in the capital city of the so-called Islamic State, Raqqah, and it’s likely they’ll be married soon.

NOSHABAH: “I think the reason I wouldn’t go there to fight is my parents mainly. You know it’s not… as my parents have told me that it’s not sort of all you know as perfect as it might seem to you and I’m not fed the sort of propaganda that they may have been fed, you know?”

MACKINTOSH: Noshaba’s former friends, the Halane sisters, are now 17. They carry on posting pictures and messages glorifying Islamic State.

NOSHABAH: “It’s almost as if they’ve sort of just, yeah romanticised it completely like they think they’re going to go over and it’s just going to be perfect and it’s going to be like an amazing revolution but it’s, in fact, they’re just going to be living in caves sort of, you know taking care of the wounded covered from head to toe”.

MACKINTOSH: Earlier in the year, IS released a manifesto spelling out the role of women. It revealed that girls could be married from the age of 9 and IS fighters were allowed more than one wife.

JIHADIST #1: “Today is distribution day God willing. Each one takes his share”.

JIHADIST #2: “I swear man I am searching for a girl. I hope I find one”.

JIHADIST #3: “Today is the day of (female) slaves and we should have our share”.

MACKINTOSH: When they conquer new territory the jihadis take young women as sex slaves. These extraordinary pictures show a sex slave market were girls are bartered.

JIHADIST: “If she is 15 years old… I have to check her… check her teeth”.

MACKINTOSH: British girls have high value but their marriages don’t last long. Last December Zahra Halane announced that her husband, a man originally from Coventry, was dead.

ZAHRA HALANE POST: “May Allah accept my husband Ali Alfarsii who got his final reckoning in Iraq two days ago. My twin sister’s husband got killed too at the same time as mine, lol. We both made the journey together, now both widows together too. So right now? Like right, right now! My husband is probably with his virgins”.

MACKINTOSH: Aqsa Mahmood’s blog shows her dedication to the jihadi cause.

AQSA MAHMOOD POST: “Know this Cameron, Obama, you and your countries will be beneath our feet and your Kuffar will be destroyed. If not you, then your grandchildren or their grandchildren. This Islamic empire shall be known and feared worldwide and we will follow none other than the law of the one and the only Allah. This is a war against Islam and it is known that either you’re with them or you’re with us - so pick a side”.