How do London's young Muslims view the 7/7 attacks?

Passenger seats from the bus that was blown up in a suicide bomb attack in Woburn Place near Tavistock Square Image copyright Getty Images

On 7 July 2005 four suicide bombers killed 52 people and injured hundreds more in attacks on London's transport system. Ten years on, Muslim teenagers from Tower Hamlets describe what the attacks mean to them and how they view modern extremist threats.

Jakiya is a conscientious 17-year-old pupil, at a local girls' school in Shadwell, east London, who chats animatedly about her exams.

For her, 7 July 2005 is a distant memory; she was eight when it happened and she found the attacks confusing.

"I was just a child. At the time I couldn't voice an opinion but I was really scared," she says.

"I remember looking at pictures on the news of the top of the bus being blown off.

"My mum was really scared for me to go to school because the attacks were in [nearby] Aldgate.

'Really shocked'

Her parents made her take the day off school on the Friday and banned her from leaving the house.

"The bombs were really unexpected, you didn't know where it might blow up," she recalls.

Her 16-year-old friend Hennah has no memory of the 7 July attacks. She says she was "too young" to know what was going on and initially confuses them with the 9/11 attacks.

"Oh, ok, was 7/7 the bomb on the bus and the trains? I don't remember it but my history teacher told us last year that he was about to get on the bus that blew up.

"He told us on memorial day that if he had been on that bus he wouldn't be teaching us right now. I was really shocked."

"We never really talk about 7/7 at school or anything because every year something new happens."

More prominent in the minds of these girls are contemporary events in Syria and other Muslim countries. To Jakiya and her friends the 7 July attacks feel like a subject they might study in history lessons but modern Islamic extremism feels far more real to them.

In February, three pupils from Bethnal Green Academy - Kadiza Sultana, 16, Amira Abase 15, and Shamima Begum 15 - travelled to Istanbul and from there to Syria to join the Islamic State (IS) group. Two of the girls have since married IS fighters, their families say.

Image copyright Getty Images

"When it happened our head teacher was so worried because we are an all girls' school and women are more vulnerable," Hennah says.

"They stopped us going online at school and we still can't access Google on the school computers, but we don't need to because we have the internet on our phones anyway.

"I don't know why those girls wanted to go to Syria. They were all A grade students. It makes you worry it could happen to anyone."

Jakiya says: "With Isis [IS] it's different. I am liberal and we do not promote war, we want peace.

"I read the Koran. These people call themselves Muslims but why would you want to start a war with your own people?"

She dismisses IS fighters as "power hungry hooligans" and is offended by the group's reported wealth. "I Googled their net worth and they earn millions and billions. It makes me angry, why do these conflicts have to happen?"

Image copyright Met Police
Image caption Kadiza Sultana, Amira Abase and Shamima Begum (l-r) who travelled to Turkey from Bethnal Green

Like many teenagers, the girls get most of their information about the world from Facebook and other social media. They say they rely on posts shared by their friends to find out what is happening in places such as Syria or Palestine.

I ask Hennah whether she ever questions the accuracy of what she is being told on social media, or the motivations of those who post it.

A passionate discussion ensues between the friends, the upshot of which is newspapers cannot be trusted because they "will twist things" and the way they label communities can have an alienating effect.

"It kind of hurts that people say Muslims are the ones killing everyone because of ISIS and 7/7. But they're just the most recent."

"When I hear about 'Muslim extremists', or 'a Muslim man has done this' or 'a Muslim woman has done that', I think, 'why is the media presenting it in that way? I am a Muslim but it doesn't make me bad'," Jakiya adds.

The impression from the pair is that information posted by friends is regarded as more reliable because it has come from someone they know. The pupils from Bethnal Green who left for Syria during the February half-term are thought to have made initial contact with a British girl in Syria via Twitter.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption A minute's silence was observed across the country at 11:30 BST on 7 July to remember those who died

Another of the girls' friends, who asks not to be named, says her peers often discuss events in Syria and Libya on social media.

"We will post what's happening in Palestine [too] because it's happening to Muslims as well and we're all the same family.

"When I heard about those girls going off to Syria I couldn't believe it. I talked about it with my friends. They could have been tricked for a long time. It was stupid but I do feel sorry for them.

"I know one of them. Everyday after school we all went off to the park."

She says the girl she knew "used to be so nice". Their parents were friends too and the families had socialised together.

"I didn't believe it at first but then I saw her dad talking on BBC News.

"My sister was getting all these questions and friends pressuring her online and asking questions, saying 'did she know what had happened? and 'had she heard anything?' and stuff like that."

"I still feel safe around my friends though because when they found out, we all reacted in the same way so I feel comfortable sharing my feelings with my friends.

"And I feel proud to live in London compared to my aunt in France where they fine you for wearing the niqab."

Despite the 7 July attacks, she says she has not experienced any particular hostility towards her as a Muslim living in London.

"East London is full of Bengalis and there are Arabs and Muslims in west London too. If people see you with a headscarf they just look at you and then turn away, just notice it, that's all, but I am not bothered about it. It doesn't affect me."

She had only recently arrived in the UK when the 7 July attacks happened.

"I couldn't speak English, so when the attacks happened I didn't know what it was all about.

"No-one hardly ever talks about it, it's like people have forgotten about it or it just doesn't bother them. But I think I am going to research it more and find out what the causes were now."

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