A schoolboy aged 12 has been identified as an al-Qaeda inspired extremist after sending beheading videos to his classmates, police have disclosed.
Anti-terrorism chiefs have said the example revealed how violent extremism is spreading “like a virus infecting young minds”.
The blond, white schoolboy from West Yorkshire is among 120 people being dealt with by police in a new anti-terrorism scheme targeting al-Qa’eda inspired youths. He has been identified only by the initials BC and was reported by his school after he was found circulating video clips of terrorists beheading Westerners.
Sir Norman Bettison, Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, said: “That was bad enough, but he also has an unnatural interest in guns and weapons.
“He spoke openly of his wish to be a sniper and spoke of his curiosity of what it would be like to kill someone.”
Sir Norman described him as an “angelic looking boy” whose police mugshot showed a fair-haired child so short that his head was barely in the frame of the camera.
“He is at risk of being a violent young man and a threat to society,” the chief constable said.
“He is not a Muslim. He is not driven by ideology – he is too young to spell the word.
“But he is being influenced and intoxicated by the imagery and appeal of Jihadist and other internet violence.”
Sir Norman, speaking at a conference of police chiefs in Liverpool, said that the internet helped to peddle the “virus”.
He added: “We know that there is a latent sense of grievance in the minds of many young people which, in the right conditions, can lead to the desire for violent expression.
“What happens if they learn how to build and deploy an explosive device that will cause mass casualties? Or if core al-Qa’eda can get their hands on these people to act as mules for a more sophisticated attack?”
The police chief urged every parent – particularly Muslims – to address the issue of extremism with their children.
“The al-Qa’eda brand of violent extremism continues to spread like a virus infecting young minds,” he said.
“Every young Muslim will be introduced to ideas around al-Qa’eda and a ‘global struggle’. I don’t see how you can avoid it in 2008.”
The 12-year-old boy arrived in Britain as an asylum seeker in July 2005, and at the age of eight allegedly assisted a nine-year-old and a 12-year-old boy in the forced rape of his sister, although he was never prosecuted, police revealed.
He is now being handled under a scheme known as the Channel Project, which has been running for the past nine months.
The number of suspects uncovered so far – 124 – was “higher than expected”, Sir Norman added.
They have been referred to the police and other agencies by schools, community leaders, mosques and others.
“We are trying to intervene early. We are trying to snuff out violent extremism,” said Sir Norman.
Sir Norman said none of the referrals had been prosecuted because officers were attempting to avoid using anti-terror laws against anyone identified by the scheme.
“Throwing the book at them in terms of the Prevention of Terrorism Act would be complete overkill,” the chief constable said.
“We are not talking about criminal actions. We are talking about vulnerable kids.”
Two other cases highlighted by the senior policeman were Muslim youths, known only as NH and YH, who were both 15 when they were reported by their communities because they were showing extremist and racist tendencies.
New figures revealed that 36 people were convicted of terror-related offences last year and 31 have been convicted already this year, with several trials ongoing. Around 140 are on remand awaiting trial.
Bob Quick, the head of Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command, said: “The threat has not lessened in any way to that we have seen in the past four summers.”