Sajda Mughal OBE spoke exclusively to Metro about her personal trauma as a survivor of the 7/7 London Bombings on the 16th anniversary, and the need for a complete overhaul of the Prevent Strategy.
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A 7/7 survivor has told how she remembers the attack ‘as if it was yesterday’ as she spoke on the 16th anniversary of the London bombings which almost claimed her life.
Sajda Mughal OBE also called for a complete overhaul of the Government’s controversial strategy for countering radicalisation and extremism.
The charity leader believes nothing has changed to improve people’s safety since the day four suicide bombers detonated devices on the capital’s transport network, killing 56 people and injuring hundreds more.
After the attack, she traded a career in the city for the chief executive role of the JAN Trust, which supports marginalised women and young people and raises awareness of issues including counter-terrorism.
The consultant and public speaker told Metro.co.uk she is dismayed at the Government’s attempts to tackle extremism, including through its controversial Prevent strategy, which sets out the approach for preventing people from being radicalised and drawn into terrorism.
A review headed by William Shawcross is being boycotted by more than 450 Islamic organisations who dispute the Government’s assertion that he is acting independently and say the programme has curtailed freedom of speech, removed people’s civil liberties and criminalised communities.
Sajda told Metro.co.uk: ‘Sixteen years on I’m concerned and frustrated.
‘Having survived 7/7 and left the corporate world I’ve made my own differences on the ground in terms of the work I’ve been doing with communities but I have to say our Government hasn’t done enough, particularly with the rise of far-right extremism and the division and hate in society.
‘If the Government had worked quicker, we wouldn’t have had the rise of hate crime and Islamophobia. I don’t believe the agencies such as the Government and the police have a joined-up and consistent approach.
‘There needs to be a complete shake-up of the whole counter-terrorism strategy in order to make the UK a harmonious place.’
Plots involving extreme far-right groups grew from 6% in 2014 to 10% in 2020 out of the total caseload of UK counter-terror police.
In the meantime, the Prevent programme has been dogged by accusations that it criminalises and stigmatises those it seeks to protect, such an 11-year-old boy referred to the programme after a teacher mistook the word ‘alms’ for ‘arms’.
Sajda, who has previously worked with the Home Office, said: ‘We’ve had Prevent for 16 years and finally it’s being reviewed, but as someone who’s worked previously with Prevent, I have no faith in the current review, it’s a tick-box exercise. Prevent is not fit for purpose, you only have to look at it statistically in terms of the numbers of attacks and complaints.
‘It should be about the public’s lives being put first, but unfortunately that’s not that the case. On the inside, the Prevent department is about egos, promotions and personalities. You change things through the better through listening to criticism, if you don’t you just live in your echochamber, and that’s exactly what’s happened within counter-terrorism.’
‘The world is no safer now than it was 16 years ago, it’s still a dangerous place,’ she said.
‘For example, there has been the rise in far-right extremism and I’ve experienced it over the years, I’ve had death threats, rape threats, I’ve had to move address and our charity’s building has had windows broken and EDL signs put up.
‘Then I hear from those on the ground, particularly within the Muslim community, that bullying has increased in schools and women have suffered in parks with dogs being set upon them. I feel we’ve moved from the tolerant, harmonious UK that I grew up in as a child to a very dark place and the Government and narrative from politicians hasn’t helped at all.’
Sajda added: ‘The police and Home Office have foiled many attacks but there have also been many failures and the sad thing is I’m not surprised by the failures having worked for 10 years with the Home Office.’
Sajda was on a Piccadilly line train targeted by Germaine Lindsay on July 7, 2005 and is the only known Muslim survivor.
The mum-of-two, who lives in west London, credits the fact she got on at her usual carriage – even though she was running late – for saving her life.
She will take the day off work and spend time with her husband and children to help her get through the anniversary.
Sajda said: ‘Even though 16 years sounds like a long time I remember it as if it was yesterday and I still have nightmares as the anniversary approaches.
‘It’s a difficult time as I reflect back on the experience I had that day and what I saw in terms of that near-death experience; I saw people who had been injured and the bodies being brought out.
‘In other words, it’s a very emotional day and my kids and my husband are going to help me get through.
‘I will also remember all those who lost their lives.
‘Sixteen years on, I don’t want people to forget because that was one of the biggest terrorist attacks that the UK has ever had and many young people don’t know about it.
‘I don’t want it to be forgotten in any way.’
A Home Office spokesperson said: ‘The Prevent programme is fundamentally about safeguarding vulnerable individuals to stop them from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism.
‘It is very much supported by the general public, with a recent survey showing 58% of them viewed Prevent favourably compared to just 8% who viewed it unfavourably.’