A masked black-clad militant, identified as a Briton named Mohammed Emwazi, brandishes a knife in this still image from a 2014 video.

CNS PHOTO | SITE INTEL GROUP HANDOUT VIA REUTERS

A masked black-clad militant, identified as a Briton named Mohammed Emwazi, brandishes a knife in this still image from a 2014 video.

February 8, 2016
SIMON CALDWELL
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

London - It can take just one month to turn a disenfranchised teenage Catholic student into fanatical Islamic terrorist, an English cardinal warned Catholic teachers.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster told delegates at a London conference to guard against the Internet recruitment of vulnerable secondary school students by the Islamic State.

Nichols spoke to the Secondary Leaders' Conference of the Catholic Association of Teachers, Schools and Colleges and the Catholic Education Service Jan. 28.

A combination of naiveté, isolation, loss of shared values and easy access to the Internet make children in their early teens prime targets for the terror group, Nichols said.

The cardinal said that from his discussions with young people who have flirted with invitations to join Islamic State, he learned that children, typically ages 14 or 15, were being recruited at astonishing speed.

"One said that it was clearly possible to bring a person to the point of being willing to leave all for the sake of their newfound cause, even to the point of embracing violence or suicide, within a four- or five-week period," Nichols said.

"One month is all it takes to transform a dissatisfied and disorientated teenager into a terrorist," he added.

The speech described how one high-achieving girl he spoke to was dissuaded from joining Islamic State at the last minute and only after long discussions "about what she wanted in life and what she stood to lose."

He told educators that jihadis were targeting such children because they considered them to be people "as yet unformed by substantive values, left 'value-free' by their life thus far."

"It is to teenagers such as these that the call of a definitive, demanding faith, one which asks for a heroic sacrifice in a wide cause for victory . . . is cast as a true fulfillment of all the unfocused yearning within them," he said.

Many recruits, Nichols said, were isolated by the modern world and often wished to be part of something greater. They "may be finding life to be rather flat, functional and boring."

CHRISTIAN PURPOSE

Catholic educators, the cardinal said, must have the courage to propose an authentic Christian purpose to young people that is equally as captivating as the false narrative of the terrorists.

The Catholic vision would include the cultivation of a relationship with Jesus, he added, and the development of a sense of Christian vocation.

Police in Britain believe that at least 700 British Muslims have joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Many have returned to the United Kingdom, but about 100 have been killed.

The British public has been shocked by reports of the prevalence of British converts among the ranks of the jihadis.

Although converts make up four per cent of Britain's 2.7 million Muslims, they represent 11 per cent of those convicted of terrorism offences.