After being caught in the 7/7 bombings, Sajda Mughal set up a programme to help Muslim mothers protect their children from online radicalisation…
‘If I’d managed to get a seat in my usual Piccadilly line carriage on July 7 2005, I wouldn’t be alive today. I would have been one of the dozens of people who lost their lives when Germaine Lindsay detonated his bomb. The moments that followed were utter chaos: thick black smoke filled the carriage, the lights went out, people were injured and screaming. We were trying frantically to break the windows and escape. I thought I was going to die.
I didn’t know at the time I was involved in a terrorist attack: I thought it was a derailment. The emergency services got us out after 45 minutes, and I walked home in shock. It wasn’t until later that evening I found out it was a bombing – and one carried out in the name of my religion. It was incomprehensible to me. This was not Islam.
After the shock subsided, I couldn’t stop thinking about the unanswered questions. Who manipulated these men? What could have been done to prevent it? What about their families – their mothers who would not have wanted to see their children take their own lives and the lives of others, especially in the name of their religion? Something had to be done. I quit my City job in investment banking and began working for the JAN Trust, a charity that works with women from marginalised communities, tackling issues such as violence against women and radicalisation.
The internet plays a large part in radicalising people, and I found that huge numbers of Muslim mothers in London and the rest of the UK lacked basic IT skills. A lot of them didn’t speak English and often only watched TV from their home countries. They knew nothing about online radicalisation, but they wanted to find out.
It seemed to me that these women were the key to preventing radicalisation. So I set up the Web Guardians programme: a course run by the JAN Trust that helps mothers use the internet and keep their children safe online. That’s how I became involved in Prevent, part of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy. Prevent aims to increase young people’s resilience to terrorist and extremist ideologies, by working with existing communities – youth groups, religious groups and charities like the JAN Trust. It reached more than 42,000 people in 2015-16.
I’ve heard heartbreaking stories from mothers who have lost their children to extremism. One told me that her son asked her for his passport for a job interview. She found out weeks later that he was in Syria with Daesh. Now he is dead.
But Web Guardians has helped thousands of families avoid that fate. One mother we worked with last year discovered her 13-year old son had been watching extremist videos online. She was terribly concerned, but the knowledge and skills she’d gained gave her the confidence to engage with him and ultimately protect him.
Watching the tragic events unfold in Westminster last month took me right back to 7/7. The terror, anxiety and stress all came rushing back. But it also reminded me why I do what I do. My experience on that terrible day still motivates me 12 years on to protect vulnerable people from radicalisation, so no one has to go through that again.’
Find out more about Sajda’s work at www.jantrust.org, and see Londoners’ moving reactions to the Westminster terrorist attack.