Teachers, accountants, supermarket workers, businessmen, and a vicar’s son – these are the faces of one of Britain’s biggest jihadist networks uncovered in the Black Country.
And today the Express & Star can lift the lid on the true scale of a wave of Islamic extremism in support of the bloodthirsty and barbaric Islamic State that swept Walsall.
In the summer of 2014, the proscribed terrorist organisation ISIS, under the leadership of former al-Qaeda commander Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, established the so-called Islamic State and declared a ‘worldwide caliphate’ in parts of Syria and northern Iraq under its control.
In doing so the fundamentalist group would say it placed a global obligation on Muslims to migrate from the lands of non-believers, the ‘kuffar’, to the captured territory in Syria and Iraq governed under strict Islamic Sharia law.
The extremists came to prominence after videos emerged of the masked British slaughterer Mohammed Emwazi, also known as Jihadi John, beheading British and American hostages.
In Walsall there was already one group of young Muslim men that was on the radar of West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit and MI5 as early as 2012.
They called themselves Islam Walsall and had a meeting house in Bradford Lane just off of the town centre.
At Walsall market they had a stall and would wear traditional Islamic dress handing out copies of the Quran. But under the guise of Islamic missionary, this group in fact harboured dangerous and extreme views.
In a menacing letter it warned imams in the town not to welcome MPs, police, councillors or other ‘non-believers’ into the Aisha Mosque in Rutter Street, Caldmore.
And on Christmas Day in 2013 the group hosted cronies of hook-handed cleric Abu Hamza and 7/7 preacher Abdullah el-Faisal at a hotel in the town. The group attracted up to 30 people at its meetings – making it potentially the largest Islamic extremist group ever uncovered in the Black Country.
In 2014, after the declaration of the Islamic State caliphate, six people from Walsall successfully travelled to Syria and at least a further five tried to do so, including three pregnant women.
Chillingly two of the women tried to take their five young children, leading the group to be dubbed the ‘Babies for ISIS gang’.
The first from the group to make the journey, or ‘hijra’ to the war-torn country was vicar’s son Jake Petty, 25, on July 8, 2014.