The breeding ground for jihadis where even the ice cream lady wears a burka: How Dewsbury, the once great textile town of the North, has undergone a terrifying transformation
- UK’s youngest ever suicide bomber was from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire
- Talha Asmal, 17, killed himself by detonating car packed with explosives
- Several other British-born terrorists have also been radicalised in the town
- And it was home to the leader of the gang behind the London 7/7 bombings
Jean Wood is determined to spend the rest of her days in Savile Town, a small enclave of terraced streets in the once proud Yorkshire wool town of Dewsbury.
This is where she grew up, went to the grammar school and got married at the nearby handsome parish church nearly half a century ago.
A widow of 75, she likes to visit her grandchildren and tend the flower-filled garden of her detached house on a steep road leading down to the area’s community recreation ground, where the cricket club was once the boast of Savile Town.
A woman in a full face veil runs the ice cream van in the Savile Town area in Dewsbury West Yorksire
Few of her friends or relatives live in this part of town any more. Jean is one of only 48 white Britons who have stayed on, while all the other 4,033 Savile Town residents, according to the latest 2011 census, are of Pakistani or Indian heritage.
Their forebears were enticed here as cheap paid labour for back-breaking jobs in the wool mills in the late 1950s. Hard-working, they were soon buying up the terraced houses, building their own mosques and opening corner shops selling burkas, prayer mats and perfumes containing no alcohol, in line with the strict teachings of the Islamic Holy Book the Koran.
‘The change happened so quickly,’ says Jean today. ‘One day it seemed it was all whites, and then it was all Asians.’
Jean remembers when the first Asian family moved into Savile Town, on a road named South Street where she was brought up. Her father worked for the Yorkshire Electricity Board, her mother was a housewife and she was in her teens.
‘We peered at them and they peered back,’ she says now, as she serves a cup of tea in her sitting room. ‘We had never seen anything like them and they probably felt just the same about us. There was no prejudice, just curiosity.’
Yet feelings between the two communities have changed dramatically for the worse in the years since. Across the world Dewsbury was always famous for manufacturing wool products – it was said the town provided the coats for British soldiers’ backs and the blankets under which they slept too.
Today, it has gained another kind of terrifying notoriety. First, the leader of the gang of four bombers who attacked London on July 7, 2005, came from here.
When Mohammad Sidique Khan bade farewell to his pregnant wife on the morning he led his fellow attackers to the capital to claim 52 innocent lives in explosions on Tube trains and a bus, it was from a council house in a quiet cul-de-sac not far from Jean’s house.
Next came Britain’s youngest convicted terrorist, Hammaad Munshi. He was arrested in 2006 when he was 16 while walking home from the local comprehensive carrying two bags of ball bearings – a key component of a suicide vest. Police later found a guide to explosives and notes on martyrdom in his bedroom.
In April it emerged that Munshi’s younger brother Hassan, 17, had secretly travelled to the badlands of Islamic State. He went with his neighbour Talha Asmal, also aged 17, a fanatical recruit who this weekend was revealed to have become Britain’s youngest ever suicide bomber in Iraq.
Talha was part of a four-strong team of IS assassins who killed at least 11 people in two separate explosions near the city of Baiji.
He and Hassan took a Thomas Cook holiday flight to Dalaman, a resort in Turkey, at the beginning of the Easter holidays and journeyed for miles before crossing into areas controlled by IS.
Their departure focussed a harsh glare, once again, on this small enclave of Yorkshire.
The families of the two missing boys insisted they were vulnerable, impressionable teenagers brainwashed over social media.
Yet can everything be blamed on the internet? Others believe much of Savile Town, now one of the most racially segregated places in Britain, has become so dangerously steeped in a violent brand of Islam that young men there are encouraged to be suspicious of, and even hate, the West.
When I visited recently, as families played on the recreation ground where the cricket pavilion was torn down long ago, almost everyone seemed to be Muslim. Even the woman serving ice cream from a van bearing the slogan ‘Nice and Creamy, Cool and Dreamy’ was wearing a burka so extensively covering her face that even her eyes were hardly visible.
And almost every girl waiting their turn in the queue was clad in Islamic robes, including those of five, six and seven.
Not far away there is a Sharia Court which was criticised recently in a House of Lords report for discriminating against women in the matrimonial disputes it oversees.
The area has several private madrassas – Islamic schools where young boys (and some girls) learn the Koran by heart. Today only two pubs remain out of the nine that once dotted the streets. The others have either been demolished or turned into mosques. Towering over the street where Jean Wood was raised is the giant Markazi mosque. It was built in the 1980s with Saudi Arabian money on a piece of land where the local bowling green club stood and locals used to tend their allotments.
Now it is the European headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat, a global Islamic missionary movement with an austere, ultra-conservative religious creed nurturing the belief that British values pose a threat to Muslims.
One of Tablighi Jamaat’s leading advocates, the scholar Ebrahim Rangooni, has proclaimed that the movement’s purpose is to rescue Muslims ‘from the culture and civilisation of the Jews, the Christians and other enemies of Islam.’
He tells the faithful to ‘save your progeny from the education of the British school or college in the same way as you would save them from a lion or wolf’.
Most of the Savile Town mosques follow the same conservative tradition. One is called Zakaria and is located just around the corner from where the two latest jihadi recruits, Talha and Hassan, grew up. They are believed to have worshipped there because it was founded by one of the boys’ grandfathers.
One man who has seen Dewsbury change is 56-year-old Danny Lockwood, an author and local newspaper editor, who has lived here all his life. He says: ‘The prodigiously industrious first generation of Asian immigrants who came to our wool mills later turned the town into the UK’s capital for bed-manufacturing. They brought with them an incredible work ethic, a single minded aspiration to succeed and a strong religious tradition.
‘But I fear that their offspring and later arrivals seem less fond of hard work. They are also influenced by the mosques.’
Danny also blames the ever- widening cultural chasm on local white liberal politicians who, over decades, signed up to the dogma of multiculturalism.
‘They did not expect new immigrants to respect British ways or Western values, but encouraged them to develop their own culture with no questions asked,’ he explains.
He cites the example of the two local Tory grandees who, seeking support from the Muslim community, gifted the historic Savile Town cricket ground to the giant Markazi mosque on a 999-year lease. The pitch was soon abandoned and turned into a community recreation ground with slides and swings for children.
Before long, a summer gala there was cancelled by councillors amid claims that a planned beer tent offended Muslim sensibilities regarding alcohol, and at the local hospital it was reported that nurses were helping turn patients’ beds towards Mecca, the holiest city of Islam, so patients could pray in the correct manner – although this was never official policy.
In Savile Town, I visited the snooker club where Hassan Munshi and his friend Talha were regular players until they took that Thomas Cook flight.
Dewsbury is now the European headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat, a global Islamic missionary movement with an austere, ultra-conservative religious creed nurturing the belief that British values pose a threat to Muslims
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