Lockdown risks presenting “rich pickings” for terror recruiters, with vulnerable children susceptible to radicalisation through spending more time online away from adult supervision, the mother of Manchester Arena bombing victim Martyn Hett has warned.
Figen Murray said “the sense of apocalyptic doom” around coronavirus played into the hands of jihadi and far-right extremists, comparing their befriending of children to that of sex offenders “grooming” under-age victims.
The warning comes ahead of Friday’s third anniversary of the Manchester Arena bombing, which Mrs Murray said she was “struggling” with due to strict social-distancing rules preventing grieving families, friends and survivors from marking the occasion together.
Suicide bomber Salman Abedi killed 22 people and injured hundreds more when he detonated his explosive device as thousands of men, women and children streamed from an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena, on May 22 2017.
His brother, Hashem, was convicted of murder and conspiracy at the Old Bailey in March.
Mrs Murray said: “Unfortunately the pandemic and the sense of apocalyptic doom and the ‘end of the world’ feeds into a narrative of jihadist terrorism and far-right ideology.
“Terrorist recruiters are no different to sexual predators, they ‘befriend’ people, pretend to be the age of the child, get them into a position of ‘friendship’ and literally groom them.
“At the moment they have rich pickings – a lot more children are online for school work and for gaming because they cannot go to school due to coronavirus.
“I am sure terrorists are using this lockdown period to recruit as many people as possible.
“People must not believe terrorism has gone away.”
Mrs Murray has spent the time since her son’s death visiting schools, colleges and universities to discuss radicalisation in an attempt to prevent young people being recruited to extremist groups.
She said teachers “will need to be very observant” to the signs of potential radicalisation, and engage the government’s Prevent counter-terror strategy if they have suspicions.
She said: “If somebody has been recruited or radicalised, there are tell-tale signs in their language and behaviour.
“A lot of teachers will hopefully be well versed in that.”
This year’s anniversary has already caused fresh upset, with social-distancing measures putting a halt on mass gatherings.
It means Manchester Cathedral will have to broadcast two services on its Facebook page, urging people to log on at home rather than attend in person like previous years.
Mrs Murray said: “Before the restrictions, it was really important we had connectedness and reached out, family and friends, but also the wider community, to come together.
“We can’t do that this year It’s going to be very strange.
“I’m normally a really robust and resilient person, but I’ve had so much time on my hands. I’m struggling a bit.
“I can’t have people to visit, it is very raw, I have noticed I am very reflective, I dream a lot.”
Instead, Mr Hett’s family and friends will join a group chat on video conferencing app Zoom, raising a toast to the 29-year-old PR manager.
Mrs Murray said: “Zoom will do this year. Since the pandemic, we have all had to adapt and I think that shows how strong the human spirit is.”