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MP calls for UK Prevent review after girl's assumed death in Syria

Criticism of government's counter-extremism strategy follows reported death of London teenager who absconded to IS territory in 2015
Kadiza Sultana had wanted to leave IS a year ago after becoming disillusioned with the group

A British politician has called for a full review of the government's controversial Prevent counter-extremism programme after a teenager from her London constituency who fled to Islamic State (IS)-held Syria was reported to have been killed in a Russian air strike.

A lawyer for the family of Kadiza Sultana, who left London with two school friends in March 2015, said on Thursday that the family believed reports that she had been killed earlier this year were true.   

Rushanara Ali, an MP for Bethnal Green and Bow in East London for the opposition Labour Party, told BBC radio's Today Programme that she had "deep concerns" about how the Prevent programme was being implemented in communities across the UK. 

"I have huge concerns about some of the ways in which [Prevent] is implemented," said Ali. "The government needs to do a proper assessment of what's working and what's not and listen to the Muslim community and the dangers the Muslim community face."

She added: "Many have concerns about how Prevent is being implemented, concerns about young Muslims being stigmatised.

"There needs to be a balance struck to protect young people, to prevent them from being radicalised, but also making sure teachers and other agencies have the proper advice training and support.”

Calls to reform the Prevent agenda, which faces accusations of being discriminatory against Muslims, come in the wake of a number of critical reports of government counter-extremism policy by human rights watchdogs and parliamentary committees. 

Prevent has also been condemned by human rights campaigners and trade unions, with one report suggesting that the extension of the strategy into schools was "violating children's rights" by preventing open discussion and debate in classrooms.

Ali's Labour Party introduced the original Prevent strategy in the mid-2000s following the London bombings in 2005 that killed 52 people, but prominent members of the party including leader Jeremy Corbyn and shadow home secretary Andy Burnham have both called for the government to review its counter-extremism policies, which include plans to outlaw non-violent extremism.

But party policy still appears confused, with Owen Smith, who is currently challenging Corbyn for the leadership, on Thursday suggesting that Prevent should be better resourced and accusing the government of having "grossly undermined and under-resourced" the strategy since coming to power.

He also pledged to put Prevent "at the forefront of any Labour policy [on terrorism] making sure that we foster better community relations in Britain", if he became leader.

The Conservative government and its Conservative-led coalition predecessor have struggled for years to introduce new measures focused on tackling so-called “non-violent extremism”, with plans for a counter-extremism bill included in each of the previous two Queen’s Speeches.

Theresa May, the new prime minister who replaced David Cameron last month, oversaw counter-extremism efforts for years in her previous role as home secretary, including the introduction of the controversial Prevent duty which requires teachers, doctors and other public servants to “have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.

Sultana and her two friends were all believed to have married IS fighters - including an American and Australian national - with two of them becoming widows just months after arriving in Syria, their families were told, according to their lawyer, Tasnime Akunjee. 

In a phone call, Sultana expressed fears about living in Raqqa, saying she was frightened and reportedly added: "I don't have a good feeling."

She added: "You know if something goes wrong, that's it. You know the borders are closed right now, so how am I going to get out?"

According to Akunjee, the family had planned to get Sultana out of Raqqa after she expressed a desire to leave the de facto IS capital over a year ago. 

"A number of sources have said that she had been killed and she has not been in contact with the family for several weeks. Over a year ago, she had been talking about leaving. There was a plan to get her out," he said.

Plans for Sultana to leave are not understood to have involved either British or Turkish authorities. Previous reports however indicate that foreign nationals wanting to leave IS-held territory have faced the threat of stern punishment if caught. 

The UK foreign office in a statement said it could not confirm reports of Sultana's death. 

"The UK has advised for some time against all travel to Syria,” it said in a statement. “Anyone who does travel to these areas, for whatever reason, is putting themselves in considerable danger.”