Up to 10 primary school pupils, aged between seven and 10, have been placed on a government outreach programme for individuals considered at risk of being radicalised and turning to violence.
Some have taken inspiration from jihadi websites or after viewing extremist material in Islamic bookshops.
One child was referred to the programme by his teacher after writing on a school book: “I want to be a suicide bomber.”
At least 228 people, mostly teenagers and young men aged 15-24, have been referred to the anti-terrorism Channel project after being singled out as “potentially vulnerable to violent extremism”.
“For people to be identified there have to be distinct changes in behaviour and warning signs,” said Craig Denholm, deputy chief constable of Surrey police who oversees the programme. “We assess each one on its own merits. There is a very small number of children aged seven, eight and nine.”
The Channel project was launched after the 7/7 suicide attacks in London in 2005, when 52 commuters died.
It is run by the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers, but also involves schools, social workers and youth workers. Those displaying “concerning behaviour” are monitored by police, their parents are alerted and some are provided with mentors with moderate views.
“The programme is not appropriate for people who are dangerous or have passed over into violent extremism,” said Denholm. “The whole purpose is to persuade.”
Community policing tactics have been used in an attempt to divert them from an extremist path. Some of the children are offered “diversionary” activities, such as football coaching, or are sent on outdoor adventure courses to try to integrate them into mainstream society.