Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 July 2019

Revealed: Wife of Syria extremist commander runs child protection at UK school

Management of Birmingham Muslim School has been criticised in a series of reports

James Brokenshire was security minister in 2014 when he warned that Kateeba Al Kawthar was aligned to the most extreme groups in Syria. Bloomberg
James Brokenshire was security minister in 2014 when he warned that Kateeba Al Kawthar was aligned to the most extreme groups in Syria. Bloomberg

The British wife of an extremist commander in Syria is in charge of child protection at a controversial Islamic school where inspectors once said that pupils were at risk from radicalisation.

Gerrie Tahari, who is listed in school documents as the “designated safeguarding lead” for Birmingham Muslim School, had charges against her dropped in 2014 after being accused of breaching terror laws for buying supplies to send to her husband.

Mrs Tahari’s husband, Rabah, is on an EU financial sanctions list and was named by the UK government in 2014 as the leader of Kateeba Al Kawthar, a multinational group of fighters in Syria.

“It is aligned to the most extreme groups operating in Syria and it has links to Al Qaeda,” then security minister James Brokenshire said when he announced plans to sanction the organisation.

“The group is believed to have attracted a number of western foreign fighters, and it has released YouTube footage that encourages travel to Syria and asks Muslims to support the fighters.”

The charity that runs the school was put under investigation in February after failing to tell regulators about poor school inspection reports, including one in 2017 that said staff “lack vigilance in being alert to the risks of pupils being radicalised”.

A report later that year found “no evidence” to renew the concerns and said that school leaders had taken steps to highlight the dangers of radicalisation tighten up the school’s policies.

“None of these issues triggered the trustees to report a serious incident to the commission, as would have been expected under our serious incident reporting regime,” the Charity Commission said.

It said it had previously issued an action plan to improve the management and administration of the charity.

“The trustees have failed to implement the action plan fully leading the commission to have serious concerns about the ongoing viability of the charity.”

The school did not respond to a request for comment.

Mrs Tahari was in 2014 accused of buying supplies including walkie-talkies, goggles and sleeping mats to send to her husband in Syria.

She appeared in court alongside a former Guantanamo Bay inmate, Moazzam Begg, who was accused of trying to send a generator to Mr Tahari in Syria, court documents show.

The pair denied the accusations and charges against them were dropped after new information came to light before the trial.

Police said it was not in the public interest to hold a trial for Mrs Tahari.

All cases were continually assessed "to ensure that the right and proper course of action is undertaken in the interests of justice", a senior officer was quoted as saying.

Mr Begg said he was doing the same as the UK government by sending aid supplies to people opposed to the Assad regime. He said it was not for the purposes of terrorism.

Education experts said it was the school's responsibility to ensure security checks for teachers were carried out, which would have probably highlighted Mrs Tahiri's arrest.

The school’s governing authority would have to assess if she was suitable for the role and education authorities would not have to be told, education and protection experts said.

Education authorities in Birmingham did not respond to requests for comment.

Mrs Tahari is listed as deputy head and designated safeguarding lead on the website of the school, and on a health and safety policy for 2018/19.

The school has 72 pupils aged from four to 11 on its roll and was set up in 2001 to provide education in an Islamic environment and “instil moral and academic excellence”.

Mrs Tahari declined to comment when contacted by The National and referred questions to her lawyers. The lawyers did not respond to emailed questions.

An analyst said the failure to tackle issues at the school exposed problems with the regulator, the Office for Standards in Education.

“This underlines a fundamental flaw in the ‘safeguarding lead’ system,” said Emma Fox, research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society.

“That the office have failed to get to grips with the ongoing concerns about Birmingham Muslim School for 12 years is a national scandal.”

There have been other school controversies.

A terrorist behind the 2017 London Bridge attacks was allowed to teach Quranic lessons in a school, despite having no qualifications.

And an extremist tried to recruit a 300 child soldiers at an “outstanding” independent Muslim school in London to act as a death squad.

The inspection regime has been subject to constant financial cuts for more than a decade, leading to a shortage of monitors and reduced quality of their work, the UK’s spending watchdog said in May last year.

A spokeswoman from the education regulator said it did not look at every person’s records of working at a school.

“We ask a school to make sure those checks are done,” she said.

Updated: April 5, 2019 02:09 AM

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