UK

IS suspect's sister urges more family support

Konika Dhar before the Home Affairs Select Committee on 19 January 2016

The sister of the Briton suspected of fronting a recent Islamic State group video says more support is needed for relatives worried about radicalisation.

Konika Dhar said she was "clinging" to the hope her brother Siddhartha was not the masked man in the footage, in which five people were shown being killed.

But, speaking to MPs at Westminster, she said her family did not know who to turn to when he left for Syria in 2014.

They fear he was brainwashed, Ms Dhar told the home affairs committee.

Her appearance before the committee came as the government launched a new website for schools and parents as part of a renewed drive against extremism.

Mr Dhar, who is in his early 30s and from Walthamstow, east London, is also known as Abu Rumaysah. He left the UK while on bail following his arrest for encouraging terrorism.

In the video footage posted online earlier this month, a masked man holding a gun mocks Prime Minister David Cameron.

Image caption Siddhartha Dhar left London in September 2014

She said she had not had official verification that the figure in the video was her brother.

"I am still holding to the firm belief what I am seeing is not him," she said.

She said she would not "give up" on her brother and still wanted him to come home.

"I want him home because I'm determined for him to return to the person I remember," she added.

'Slaving'

Ms Dhar described the brother she grew up with as "fun-loving, laid-back, easy-going, very friendly".

Conservative MP Nus Ghani said that if Ms Dhar's brother was involved with the Islamic State group he was "probably engaged in slaving, beheading and raping".

The MP for Wealden struggled to control her emotions as she described an interview in the media with a victim of Islamic State militants.

"One of the women states 'one of the saddest things I remember is this little girl, 12 years old, and they raped her without mercy'," she said.

"These are the activities your brother has engaged in - do you still think he's a good man?"

Ms Dhar replied: "I think this is quite a sort of sensitive topic to talk about. My opinion will always be biased because he's my brother.

"I don't want to believe he is who he is today."

'In the dark'

Asked by the committee chairman, Keith Vaz, whether she felt support or counselling should be made available to families of relatives who had travelled to Syria to fight with Islamic State militants, Ms Dhar said it would be of help.

And she said it would have "absolutely" been a good idea if there had been organisations to speak to at the time her brother was turning to extremism.

"I think this is one thing that needs to be addressed, because for me personally it was very difficult to know who to turn to," she said.

"It's important for other families to know what are the appropriate steps one needs to take in order to get their loved one back, who is the right person to contact."

Ms Dhar told MPs her family were "in the dark" over how her brother became radicalised.

Her brother, who was raised in a Hindu family, converted to Islam as a teenager but there was, Ms Dhar added, a "long transition period" before he adopted his extreme views.

She said there were "signs that someone ought to have picked up on" but no-one could have predicted her brother, who grew up playing basketball and supporting Arsenal football club, would have joined IS.

She described him as "keeping his private life private" and said she did not attend his wedding.

Ms Dhar said she had made many attempts to contact her brother but only had "two responses" since he has been in Syria.

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