The private school jihadist: As PM unveils new terror crackdown, a Scots girl incites bloody massacre on British streets
• Glasgow-born Aqsa Mahmood, 20, was educated at top private school
• She left university last year to fight in Syria, now married and living there
• Tweets Islamic State propaganda praising ‘brothers from Woolwich’
• In June she wrote: ‘If you cannot make it to battlefield, bring it to yourself’
• Police and security services have confirmed they are aware of Mahmood
This is the Scottish private schoolgirl who travelled to Syria to join Islamic fighters – and is calling on Muslims to carry out a bloody atrocity on British streets.
Glasgow-born Aqsa Mahmood, 20, is the daughter of a successful businessman and was educated at a top private school in the city.
Last year she abandoned a university course to join fanatical Islamic State jihadists fighting in Syria.
Since then she has tweeted a series of radical messages, including a call for others to copy the shocking murder of soldier Lee Rigby, the Boston Marathon bombing and the massacre at the Fort Hood US Army base in Texas.
As fears grow over British jihadis returning home to carry out terror attacks, the Prime Minister yesterday announced new powers to seize extremists’ passports.
Since travelling to Syria, Mahmood has got married and has been tweeting descriptions of her humdrum life of cooking, cleaning and looking after children.
However, on Twitter she uses the name Umm Layth and her profile carries a picture of the black flag of brutal terrorist group Islamic State.
Shockingly, she has also posted jihadist propaganda, including one message in June this year saying: ‘Follow the examples of your brothers from Woolwich, Texas and Boston.
‘If you cannot make it to the battlefield, then bring the battlefield to yourself.’
Last night, Police Scotland and the security services confirmed they were aware of Mahmood.
Her involvement with radical Islam and her decision to travel to Syria stunned her family and friends.
Her father built up thriving businesses after coming to Scotland from Pakistan and Mahmood was sent to exclusive Craigholme School. At that time friends remember a Westernised girl, who loved make-up and clothes and liked to gossip with fellow pupils.
One ex-school friend said: ‘She wasn’t different. She got on with everybody. As soon as she decided to do something she would never change her mind. I guess that was something that was amazing about her, but also one of her downfalls.’
In her fifth year, Mahmood became more interested in Islam and began wearing the hijab. She began buying religious books, taking classes and chatting to people about Muslim ideology over the internet.
Mahmood left Craigholme after failing to get into university and went to study at the nearby Shawlands Academy, a mixed state school.
A schoolfriend there said Aqsa was a ‘usual, typical girl’. He added: ‘At school she had a lot of friends. She was a really confident person, she could talk to anyone she wanted, clever as well. Just the usual Asian Muslim girl.
‘I would say she was a moderate Muslim. I find it really bizarre, knowing her from school and then her suddenly being part of Islamic State.’
After Shawlands, Mahmood began a course in diagnostic radiography at Glasgow Caledonian University but dropped out in order to travel to Syria.
Friends did not know she had travelled to the Middle East, although Mahmood, who was very interested in politics, had spoken about wanting to go there to ‘help’ in the fight against Bashar Assad’s regime.
A security source said the Glasgow girl was one of an increasing number of western women travelling to Syria in order to provide a support network for organisations such as Islamic State.
The source said there was no indication such individuals took part in any of Islamic State’s frontline activities – but that this might change in future.
Last night, Mahmood’s father answered the door at the family’s sandstone villa, but refused to comment.
A Police Scotland spokesman said: ‘A 19-year-old female from Scotland was reported missing to us by her family in November 2013. Inquiries are ongoing in relation to her whereabouts and we are supporting her family.’
Middle-class and talented, the privileged girl who was radicalised in a leafy suburb
By EMMA COWING FOR THE SCOTTISH DAILY MAIL
Craigholme School, where fees for senior pupils come in at an eye-watering £3,500 per term, nestles in a leafy corner of Pollokshields, one of Glasgow’s more well-heeled suburbs.
At this, the city’s only private non-denominational girls’ school, pupils wear smart, below the knee kilts and are encouraged to play hockey and join the debating team.
Its motto is ‘realising your daughter’s potential’, and it is here, in these gentle, middle class surroundings, that a terrorist was raised.
In November last year, 19-year-old Aqsa Mahmood, a Craigholme girl who had recently started a degree in diagnostic radiography at Glasgow Caledonian University, abandoned her comfortable Scots life for Syria where she has joined the Islamic State, married an ISIS fighter and urged British Muslims to carry out ‘another Woolwich’.
Her family, who are believed to have known nothing of her intentions beforehand, are devastated. At the Mahmood home yesterday, a large detached villa in Glasgow’s Dumbreck, where house prices regularly exceed £500,000, Miss Mahmood’s businessman father would not comment on his daughter’s disappearance.
Yet the picture that has emerged from school friends and from Miss Mahmood’s own social media accounts is of a popular, bright, pretty young girl who loved Harry Potter and Coldplay, and admired movie star Zac Efron.
But somehow she became seduced by the idea of radical Islam, so much so that she descended into a world of Muslim extremism and gave up everything she loved in order to commit herself to jihad.
She loved Harry Potter until a preacher declared the books promoted paganism
One friend said yesterday: ‘We just did normal teenage things: talked about hair and make-up, watched films, talked about our crushes. We weren’t different, she wasn’t different.
‘We are Muslim girls – we don’t have boyfriends, just film crushes like Zac Efron. Asian culture is that you’re going to get married, you are going to have a semi-arranged marriage where you see the guy and say yes or no. But the main topic wasn’t, “Are we going to get married?”’
Miss Mahmood was clever at school and something of a bookworm. Friends believe she may once have wanted to be a doctor. With her intelligence and her moderate Muslim family, there was never any question that she would have a career.
One of her favourite books was A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini’s novel about a mother and daughter in Afghanistan.
But she also enjoyed less taxing reads such as Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, and the Harry Potter books, which she adored. She was also a keen supporter of Clydesdale Cricket Club, which both her father and older brother played for.
‘We just wanted to study hard and get to uni,’ says a friend.
‘We used to study together, study for our Highers. We all believed we would have our education behind us, have a job then become a mother and be part-time. That’s how she felt through school, I don’t know if that changed.’ During fifth year, while studying for her Highers, Miss Mahmood started wearing the hijab and taking more of an interest in Islam.
‘She really loved reading, she was into poetry and would write poetry,’ a friend said.
And she was popular, too.
‘She got on with everybody, Asians and other girls as well. She was such a laugh to be around.’
Yet in sixth year, following what her friends remember as disappointing Higher results, she was moved from the cosy, middle class bubble that was Craigholme, to the state school Shawlands Academy.
This was a different world from Craigholme, a mixed school with a large Asian population that has Moors murderer Ian Brady as a former pupil. It was around this time that Miss Mahmood started wearing the full-length abaya and reading more books about Islam.
She read the writings of one preacher who declared that her beloved Harry Potter was promoting paganism, causing her to cast aside JK Rowling’s books.
A friend who knew her from Shawlands Academy said: ‘She was a moderate Muslim. She would listen to music, that’s moderate, but at the same time she’d try hard to pray five times a day.’
The friend added: ‘At school she had a lot of friends. She was a really confident person, she could talk to anyone she wanted.’ Yet behind closed doors, Miss Mahmood was becoming more radicalised.
Her tumblr account, which she started in January 2013, provides a window into her secret world.
Here she posted pictures of mujahideen fighters in Syria, quotes from the Quran, angry statements about Guantanamo Bay and proclamations such as ‘whoever his sins are plenty, then his greatest remedy is Jihad’.
By the time she went to Glasgow Caledonian University, she was drifting away from her old Craigholme friends, cutting off contact while she lived at the family home and studied full-time, spending hours on her computer reading about jihad and praying.
One friend knew she was becoming increasingly upset about the civil war in Syria. ‘Aqsa just felt really strongly about it,’ she said.
‘Obviously, when you sit here and you see people getting hurt, you feel really helpless and think, “How can I help them”. People who are going there, it’s the only way they think they can help them.’
It remains unknown how, and with the help of whom, Miss Mahmood was able to leave Scotland for Syria. Police Scotland say they are investigating.
Yet on the day she is believed to have departed, November 14 last year, her tumblr entry is uncharacteristically devoid of religious proclamations.
Instead, there is simply a picture of an aeroplane taking off into a pink sky, with the words: ‘Sometimes, it’s better to just leave it all and just breathe.’
Since then, probably as a result of less stable wifi connections, Miss Mahmood’s postings have become fewer in number but display fervour about her new life in Syria.
She is believed to have married an ISIS fighter in January this year and is living under the caliphate.
In early March she tweeted a sunset in Aleppo, which has seen heavy fighting in recent months, followed 12 days later by a sunrise in Raqqah, a Syrian city under the control of the Islamic State.
In between times – and in the midst of the statements of jihad and descriptions of heavy fighting – there has been the occasional lighter moment, such as when she confessed to a craving for Irn-Bru, or one picture featuring western snacks including Pringles and KitKats, with the quote ‘surely after difficulty there is ease’, accompanied by a smiley face.
Yet life as the wife of an ISIS fighter has clearly not been easy.
One friend she has made in Syria, believed to be from Somalia or Ethiopia, tweeted that during recent raids the pair would practise their Arabic, in case someone came to their door.
And since arriving in Syria she has set herself up as something of an oracle for wannabe ISIS wives, answering frequently asked questions about the weather, food, clothes and other practicalities.
‘The winters here are freezing, trust me I’m from North of Britain and even still I found it cold’ she wrote in one entry.’
Her British mobile phone number no longer works and she has not been in touch with friends since arriving in Syria. It appears she has severed her links with Scotland entirely.
Her old school friend says: ‘I was obviously really devastated because this is my friend. She hasn’t got in contact with me, maybe she talks to her family.’
This seems unlikely. In one post on her tumblr page in May of this year she wrote: ‘I miss my mother. I want this to be a reminder to all of you, to recognise the worth and value of your mother, because once you lose her, nothing will be the same again.’
Her friends remain shocked that sweet, clever Aqsa – who had a kind word for everyone and sang along to her favourite Coldplay songs – has now become a radicalised terrorist.
One friend, with whom Miss Mahmood had discussed the possibility of going to Syria, clung to the hope that perhaps, things weren’t as bad as they seemed.
‘She wasn’t going over to kill people, or anything crazy like that,’ she said. ‘She just wanted to help.’
Additional reporting by Khaleda Rahman and Victoria Allen