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Terrorism, extremism and radicalisation are subjects that provoke strong emotions, from horror at the reprehensible actions of the terrorists to sympathy for the victims and their families. The families of the terrorists themselves, however, are not often considered, or certainly not from an empathetic perspective., also known as SAFE, was established to meet the needs of this specialised group of individuals who are dealing with a miasma of conflicting emotions and require help and support to rebuild their lives after losing a loved one to terrorism. You can read more about SAFE in the PDF attachment to this post.

Fiyaz Mughal OBE, founder of the No2H8 Crime Awards, is also the founder and director of SAFE. Research into the families of extremists has been limited to date, but the conclusions reached have so far been relatively ambivalent. There is no one set of circumstances, it seems, that is more or less likely than another to lead a family member to adopt radical beliefs.

Research Findings

A paper published in 2017 in the Journal for De-Radicalisation summarised the available data relating to families of terrorists and extremists, with inconclusive results. Some families spoke out against the actions of their child, while others actively supported them in their ideology. Yet others were quite simply unaware of what was going on, oblivious that their child was susceptible to the propaganda. It was concluded in the paper by Sikkens that even parents who displayed parental qualities classed as ‘outstanding’ were not safe from having a child turned to extremism.

Broad judgements and sweeping generalisations cannot be made at this point due to the lack of qualitative data available. At present it seems impossible to identify a causal link between the influence of the family on radical extremists, as there are a multitude of external, psychological and personal factors that intersect in the process of radicalisation. SAFE believes that the wider needs of families affected by a family member dying through their own terrorist actions are being woefully under-supported. The infographic attachment looks at some of the statistics for terrorists in and from the UK.

Identifying a Need for Support

SAFE was established after a need for specialised support for the families of terrorists was identified, based on personal testimonies and stories. Micheal Evans, SAFE’s family support specialist and project lead, is the brother of one of a small handful of white jihadists from Britain to go to Somalia as part of the terrorist organisation Al-Shabaab.

Thomas Evans, known within the organisation as the White Beast, left the family home in 2011 to join Al-Shabaab and was eventually killed in 2015 by Kenyan security forces. Micheal Evans’ story was shared with the world in the documentary “My Son the Jihadi”, which won a BAFTA award.

Micheal spoke of the powerlessness of the situation and the mixed emotions upon hearing of his beloved brother’s death – grief for his own loss and his brother’s potential, combined with relief that he would no longer harm others, along with guilt and constant questioning. In response to questions posed by the Home Affairs Select Committee, Micheal further spoke about how, once the official police investigation was over, he and his family were left to deal with the emotional fall-out alone.

He talked of how his mother had spent months trying to access support for his brother before his death and how that support was hard to find and sadly lacking. The short video attachment provides an overview of some of the main resources and services offered by SAFE.