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WIWO: The Journey to Jihad

Tim Rogers

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How does one begin to rationalise the problem? Three young men grow up in a city that is known for moderation and tolerance and yet seem all too willing to answer a call for Holy war in a land far away. Perhaps the truth is, in our new world, nowhere is far away anymore.

Sitting in the evening gloom illuminated by the computer screen in front of me it occurred to me that in a similar fashion, this is where it might have begun for the Cardiff boys who signed up to terrorism. The transference of fanatical ideas through technology that has swallowed up distance and time. A gift to mankind it might be in so many ways. It underpins our modern life. But for Ahmed Muthana it is a curse.

Muthana and Tim.

Though he doesn’t know for sure his suspicion is that this is how his sons became exposed to radical ideas in the first place. For now though, at the other end of the pipe the young man we believe is answering our questions on screen is the youngest of Ahmed’s two sons who have turned their back on Britain to sign up to terrorism.

Aseel is telling me that he answered a call from Allah. But what was the source of his call to jihad from whom and how was it transmitted? Wherever he is now his internet connection is weak. The responses delayed. But still they come. His enthusiasm undiminished. We cannot be 100% sure that this is him. But we have done all that we can to verify that is the case. He and the others. Social media was, presumably, part of their life at home. It is now too and they are using it with relish.

Long ago wars were fought by young men who understood that a letter might eventually reach a loved one perhaps weeks – if at all – after it was sent. But today, the question is immediate and so is the answer. The reality of war, of brutality and conflict is tweeted, videoed and instant. Its power to shape minds is all too clearly being used by the organisation that has absorbed three young men from Cardiff into its ranks. A recent ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) video was produced to professional standards.

The challenge for a liberal democracy is to weigh the balance between freedom of speech and an intolerance of messages and images from a world less tolerant where brutality, beheadings and fanaticism lure impressionable minds.

At his home in Cardiff Mr Ahmed Muthana is exhausted and stressed by the ordeal that this has heaped upon him and his family. He sits resigned to the loss of two sons who disobeyed him for a fanatical idea. When we asked him to comment on the messages his sons had been posting online he couldn’t find the words. There have been so many tears. The have dried now but what’s left behind is empty exasperation.

Perhaps one day the full story of exactly how he lost his boys to conflict and who it was that engineered their passage to Syria will become clear. But for now he mourns our online world and the lure of extremism. He thinks it has cost him dear.

You can watch Week In Week Out on Wednesday 2 July at 10.35pm on BBC One Wales.

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