A Dewsbury teenager has died after allegedly blowing himself up whilst with ISIS in Iraq.
The parents of 17-year-old Talha Asmal say they are “utterly devastated” and “heartbroken” by the news and believe Talha was “exploited” and “groomed” by ISIS recruiters online.
An Isis-affiliated social media account reported yesterday evening that a young male named Abu Yusuf al-Britani - believed to be Talha - detonated a vehicle fitted with explosives in the northern Iraqi town of Baiji.
The Foreign Office has not yet confirmed whether Talha has died, but his parents have released a statement confirming that photographs shown of a youth purportedly named Abu Yusuf Al Britany appears to show their 17-year-old son.
In a statement released this afternoon they say: “Talha comes from a close knit, hardworking, peace loving and law abiding British Muslim family. The entire family unreservedly condemns and abhors all acts of violence wherever perpetrated.
“Talha himself was a loving, kind, caring and affable teenager. He never harboured any ill will against anybody nor did he ever exhibit any violent, extreme or radical views of any kind.
“Talha’s tender years and naivety were it seems however exploited by persons unknown who hiding behind the anonymity of the world wide web targeted and befriended Talha and engaged in a process of deliberate and calculated grooming of him.
“As a result of this and completely unbeknown to us, his family and entirely against our wishes he ended up travelling it seems to Iraq.
“Whilst there it appears that Talha fell under the spell of individuals who continued to prey on his innocence and vulnerability to the point where if the press reports are accurate he was ordered to his death by so called ISIS handlers and leaders too cowardly to do their own ‘dirty’ work.
“We are all naturally utterly devastated and heartbroken by the unspeakable tragedy that now appears to have befallen us.
“We need time and understanding to come to terms with our unimaginable and painful loss.
“As a family we would like to take this opportunity to unequivocally state that ‘ISIS’ are not Islam. They do not represent in any way, shape or form Islam and Muslims and we are no longer prepared to allow a barbaric group like ‘ISIS’ to hijack our faith. ‘ISIS’ Not and Never in our name.
“As a family we would urge anyone who has any concerns about their own family members being exploited in a similar way to seek the help and advice of the Police as soon as ever possible.”
West Yorkshire Police has released a statement saying it can not confirm the identity of the person who died in Iraq but “are aware that a large number of British nationals are travelling to the Middle East for a variety of reasons and we understand that some of those travelling have resided in West Yorkshire”.
The teenager fled his home in Dewsbury, in March to allegedly join Isis along with his friend Hassan Munshi, who was also 17. There is now news on Hassan.
West Yorkshire Police’s Assistant Chief Constable Russ Foster said: “As part of the Prevent initiative West Yorkshire Police is committed to working with communities and local authorities, to highlight the dangers associated with radicalisation and travel to regions such as Syria and Iraq. We are all working together to help identify vulnerable members of our society and intervene and engage them before it is too late.
“If anyone has concerns that a friend or relative may be vulnerable to radicalisation, expressing extreme views or contemplating travelling to Syria or Iraq, it is vital that we work together to try and prevent that person from travelling.
“Those who travel to Syria and parts of Iraq are likely to witness extreme violence and could become victims of violence themselves. In addition some may be drawn into taking part and committing violent acts themselves.
“Their families left at home will be left devastated.
“No parent would want to see their child put in danger, exploited or put in a situation where they face death.
“We are extremely keen to continue in developing the work we do with partners in order to help families understand the nature of the threat from extremist material on the internet and other publications, whilst also heightening their awareness of the signs that indicate if someone is being exploited.
“I would encourage anyone with concerns around individuals being radicalised to have the confidence in coming forward and sharing their concerns with the local police, or local authority safeguarding units either by contacting 101 or attending their local Neighbourhood Policing Teams, they can intervene and provide you and your family with the appropriate support and advice. “
“Our priority is to keep our communities safe and deter them away from areas of danger such as Syria and Iraq. Both these areas are extremely dangerous places and you will be aware of the dangers a person may face should they reach that area.”
Families are also encouraged to make contact with specially trained officers for help and advice by visiting preventtragedies.co.uk.
Meanwhile, politicians have been reacting to the news.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said: “This is a very disturbing case and our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who died or were injured in this appalling terrorist attack.
“This case shows how important it is for the Government to have a proper counter-terrorism strategy, which not only includes measures to track, monitor and prosecute terror suspects, but also includes a much stronger plan for community-led action to prevent young people being drawn towards the lies and hate filled ideology of Isil.
“We have known for a long time that Isil was using social media to recruit young people to join their bloody war.
“So why don’t we have a proper plan in place for communities to be able to proactively counter the lies they spread and undermine their attempts to glorify the civil war they are fuelling?
“Despite a new counter terrorism strategy, the Government are well behind on tackling this. “Their proposals are confused and they continue to refuse to properly refuse community-led Prevent programmes which could make a massive difference in stopping young people being drawn in by terrorist groups.”