Birmingham & Black Country

'No support for terrorists in Sparkbrook'

A mural on the side of the Sparkbrook Neighbourhood Forum office
Image caption A mural along the side of a wall in Anderton Road depicts the history of the area

"About 15 years ago, someone on my street got done for making pipe bombs in his house," said taxi driver Imran Hussain, who lives in Birmingham's Sparkbrook area.

"That was a real shock, we had no idea. You just don't expect that sort of thing happening on your own street."

That shock, he said, had been felt again on the streets of Sparkbrook after three would-be suicide bombers from there and nearby Sparkhill were convicted of plotting a terror attack to rival 9/11.

Irfan Naseer, 31, Irfan Khalid, 27, and Ashik Ali, 27, were found guilty on Thursday of being "central figures" in the plan which was foiled after months of surveillance work by police.

Image caption Taxi driver Imran Hussain also volunteers to help youngsters in Sparkbrook

"It really is a small minority - the vast majority of Sparkbrook would never even think of doing anything like that, harming people in that way," Mr Hussain said.

"Anything that goes on must be very secretive. I'm born and bred here and no-one's ever tried to recruit me for terrorism, and apart from that guy on my road I've never known anyone involved in it, and I didn't know these three men.

"And they certainly wouldn't get the support of the community."

It is the help from the community that West Midlands Police is relying on to uncover any future plotters.

On the streets of Sparkbrook, few people being stopped wanted to talk about the latest convictions.

"I don't know them and I don't know anything about the case," said one man.

Another said the issue of terrorism "does not affect me".

Chequered history

Assistant Chief Constable Marcus Beale has said there is still a "high" threat of terrorists operating in Birmingham and has urged anyone who knows of anyone being "radicalised" to come forward.

Image caption The mural includes the row over the CCTV cameras in the area

But the police have a chequered history in this part of Birmingham.

In 2010, the "Project Champion" board - made up of police and city councillors - agreed to remove more than 200 surveillance cameras installed in mainly Muslim areas of Sparkbrook and Washwood Heath.

The £3m project was paid for by money allocated for fighting terrorism, and many residents felt it meant the authorities had no trust in them.

"People are cautious about the police and the cameras did nothing to help bridge the gaps between them and the community," said Mohammed Ashraf, of the Sparkbrook Neighbourhood Forum.

Along with Mr Hussain, he is one of 30 volunteers who help keep the forum running.

'Nothing here'

A mural along the side of its office in Anderton Road depicts the history of the area, including its transition from a mostly-Irish immigrant area to one dominated by a Muslim population. The CCTV camera episode is also recorded in stencil form.

Forum volunteers organise activities from Olympics fun days to charity football matches and litter picks, which regularly encourage more than 100 children out on Sparkbrook's streets to keep the area clean.

Their work - also supported by Sparkbrook's several white residents - also included a campaign to shut down a hostel previously plagued by drug abuse and prostitution.

"Half of the people in this area are under the age of 25 - they're the future of Birmingham - but there's nothing here for them," said Mr Ashraf.

"There are no youth clubs, no playing fields, and there's no hope."

He said recent figures showed that only 40% of people living in the forum's area were economically active. The rest are either in education, unemployed, retired or housewives.

"And if things are bad now, what's going to happen in the future?" said Mr Ashraf.

"We're hit by these national and local government cuts and we're being told there's no money to solve our problems. The local school here is in special measures and we've got bad health problems in the area with many diabetes cases.

"The best thing we can hope is that this latest court case might prove to the authorities we need something to give kids in areas like this some hope."

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