Former British prime minister Tony Blair's research institute has named six key individuals who have shaped the rapid spread of Islamist extremism both at home and abroad in the last three decades.
The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change said in a new report based on database research that just over two-thirds (67 per cent) of British jihadists have links, either directly or indirectly, to a core handful of ideologues.
They include the hate preacher Anjem Choudary, who is suspected of being behind multiple attacks and is currently in prison for supporting ISIL.
The others are: Choudary’s mentor, Omar Bakri Mohammed; Hani Al Sibai, an Egyptian Islamist preacher who Mr Blair tried to deport almost 20 years ago; Abdullah El Faisal, who was deported to Jamaica in 2007; Abu Qatada, a radical cleric deported to Jordan; and Abu Hamza, who preached at the Finsbury Park mosque and is in jail in the US.
The research examined the biographies of 113 men from across the UK who had taken part in the jihadist movement, from the 1980s to the ongoing Syrian civil war.
It found that British Islamist groups serve as recruiting pools for the likes of Al Qaeda and ISIL, with more than three-quarters (77 per cent) of the sample having been involved with such groups before turning to jihadism. Some of the networks behind these groups continue to operate today.
The report called for a much more proactive approach to combatting the promotion of ideological views and the activities of those who act as terror recruiters.
It urges educational establishments such as universities and colleges to create environments in which extremist ideas are challenged. “The majority of Muslims in Britain and further afield are able and willing to help,” the researchers said. “Educational establishments should equip their students to grapple in a battle of ideas.
“They should encourage environments in which no opinion can be presented as unchallengeable truth. Just as we have challenged totalitarian ideologies in the past, so must totalitarianism in the name of religion be challenged.”
The report also argues that the authorities need to work harder to target hubs spreading extremist messaging. Specifically, it says police and regulators should investigate mosques and religious study centres where links are found to multiple jihadis, examining whether radicalisation is taking place under its auspices.
Local communities need support to resist the infiltration of extremists, it found.
“In some cases, Islamist leadership is imposed on mosques after a takeover of the board of trustees by organised groups," the report said.
“The members of the local Muslim community that attend the mosque are the victims of such action."
“Investigate mosques and religious study centres where links are found to multiple jihadis, examining whether radicalisation is taking place under its auspices.”
The report makes a string of wider findings about the nature of extremist recruitment. It found that women tend to be radicalised online more than men. At least 44 per cent of the sample of women were partly radicalised online, whereas only four per cent of men had an online element noted in their radicalisation.
London dominates British jihadism, according to the research. Forty-nine per cent of the sample were based in the capital.
Many British jihadists are also well-educated. Nearly a third of those with degrees studied humanities or social science, and four read Islamic studies. Five dropped out of their course before graduating.
The research also indicated that UK jihadism is a family affair.
“Twenty-three per cent of our sample have siblings engaged in jihadi activity, comprising 14 families," it said.
"Thirty per cent in total have a family link to jihadism.”