Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber involved in the recent attack in Manchester, is known to have attended Salford University. In 2014, Abedi began studying a business and management course. He attended lectures for two years but eventually dropped out of the course and did not complete his degree. If he had continued his studies, he would have graduated this summer.
Before his attack, Abedi made trips to Libya and Syria, where he is understood to have fought alongside jihadists. French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb and British Home Secretary Amber Rudd have confirmed that Abedi’s links to ISIS were known to the British and French intelligence services.
Dr Sam Grogan, the university’s Pro-Vice Chancellor Student Experience, said: “All at the University of Salford are shocked and saddened by the events of last night. Our thoughts are with all those involved, their families and their friends.” He added, “We have provided, and continue to provide, support to all students and staff who have been affected.”
However, the atmosphere at Salford University has been decidedly hostile towards official efforts to combat radicalisation. Two years ago, the university’s former vice chancellor Martin Hall, criticised Prevent in a piece for the Times Higher Education website. He warned that the programme could “anger and radicalise students” and suggested that the strategy implied “simply by virtue of holding Islamic beliefs, a person is more likely to become a terrorist.” The University of Salford has since said that Mr Hall’s personal views do not represent the university.
Yet other elements within the University take the same approach. In February 2016, Salford University Students’ Union passed a motion to boycott the UK’s Prevent strategy, as part of the NUS campaign ‘Students not Suspects’. Minutes from the meeting at which the decision was made show that students feared the policy “demonised” Muslims, and resolved to “not engage with the Prevent strategy.” In practice, this means that officers at Salford Students’ Union will not report radicalised students to the authorities. It also commits them to educating students about the supposedly harmful impact of Prevent. Student unions at multiple UK universities have also voted to join this campaign.
Controversial groups such as CAGE, an organisation which has defended convicted terrorists, work closely with the NUS. Student Rights has previously written about both of these organisations. Representatives of CAGE and the NUS continue to propagate myths and misconceptions about the Prevent Strategy. They claim that Prevent constitutes state-sponsored Islamophobia and racism, encourages lecturers to spy on students, and silences opposition to the government.
Salford University has also given a platform to Abdullah al-Andalusi, a speaker with controversial views. He was allowed to speak in March 2015 despite a record of statements, such as “Democracy, Secularism, Feminism, Humanism and Freedom [are] blatantly un-Islamic concepts”. He has since edited his blog to remove these phrases. However, he has also claimed there is an ongoing Western effort “aimed at further subjugating and weakening … the cause of Islam”.
It is deeply disturbing to think that opposition to the UK’s counter-extremism strategy, and the early intervention it enables, may have contributed to an awful tragedy.
We at Student Rights are pleased that the University of Salford has distanced itself from Mr Hall’s remarks. However, more must be done if Salford is to play a positive role. Although Prevent is not immune from legitimate criticism, it is the best strategy for safeguarding vulnerable students from being radicalised. Many of the arguments levelled against Prevent do not stand up to basic scrutiny. We have addressed many of these points in our 2015 report ‘Preventing Prevent? Challenges to Counter-Radicalisation Policy On Campus’.