True Vision

films that make a difference

My Son the Jihadi

Back to ‘Our Films’
48 minutes
Richard Kerbaj
Peter Beard
Executive Producer:
Brian Woods

My Son The Jihadi

Click here to watch the film on All4 now

In 2011, Sally Evans made a devastating discovery - her eldest son, Thomas aged just 21, had left their home in a Buckinghamshire village and travelled to Somalia join a deadly Islamist terrorist group. Thomas had been recruited to Al Shabaab - an Al Qaeda affiliate, it is the jihadi group behind multiple atrocities in Kenya, including the Westgate shopping attack in which nearly 70 people were killed and 175 injured. Thomas became the only known white British man to join the terror group.

This powerful film documents the daily struggle Sally and her youngest son, Micheal face as they try to reconcile the Thomas they knew - a loving mild-mannered ‘normal teenage lad’ with Abdul Hakim, the jihad-preaching Islamist he has become.

Micheal, who had always been close to his big brother is furious with Thomas and often refuses to speak to him when he calls but Sally, despite being horrified by his views and sickened by the atrocities carried out by his group, refuses to give up on him and seeks the help of a de-radicalisation expert from a Muslim charity, The Active Change Foundation.

Mike Jervis has helped rescue the sons of 37 other families and starts by exploring Thomas’ childhood and early adult years pinpointing the pivotal moments which made him vulnerable to recruitment by extremists in order to formulate a strategy to help Sally draw him back to the UK.

Every news report of both Al Shabaab’s victories and defeats brings extra torment for Sally. “If he died, in one way I suppose…oh God forgive me, it would be easier because then I know that he couldn’t hurt anybody else. But no, it wouldn’t be easier because my son would be gone. But then I guess my son has gone anyway.”

When Thomas sets off on an undisclosed Al Shabaab mission, Sally starts to build a relationship with his 14 year old child bride, Sudea.  She discovers that Sudea’s parents opposed the match.  Sally manages to contact Sudea’s mother, who has fled Somalia and now lives in Sweden with the rest of the family.  Sally is shocked to hear about the violence that Sudea’s mother suffered at the hands of Al Shabaab, and the  two women establish a profound bond:-

You are my sister, we are both victims on this situation. Somalia is in flames, you are hurt, I am hurt…We share the same thing that we’re both heartbroken by our children and their choices. And I’m really sorry for that."

Filmed over a pivotal nine month period with privileged access to the lives of both Micheal and Sally – the film captures the shocking events that unfold and their first-hand reactions as they learn more about Thomas’ exact involvement in Al-Shabaab activity. With stories continuing to break of Brits travelling abroad to fight alongside Islamist terrorists, My Son The Jihadi explores the story of how one young ordinary man became radicalised in Britain and abandoned his family and country with devastating consequences for all of them.

The My Son team winning the 2016 BAFTA for Single Documentary

Sally & Micheal on Victoria Derbyshire Show

Sally & Micheal on ITV


The Family

Sally Evans was raised in a pub in Camden by her Irish parents. She lived in North London until she married, then moved to High Wycombe and worked as a classroom assistant. She adored being a mum and raising her two sons Micheal and Thomas.


Micheal is the younger of Sally’s two sons. He’s always been close to his mother and brother. In his teens Micheal was into skating and BMX-ing, hobbies that developed into a love of restoring and modifying cars. He now works for a local skateboard company taking their product photographs.

Thomas is Sally’s eldest son. Like his brother he was always close to his mum.  He too had a passion for skating and BMX-ing, but in his late teens his life changed dramatically. At 19 he converted to Islam and quickly embraced the most extreme interpretations of the religion. At 21 he ran away and joined the Islamist terror group al Shabaab.


Read Terry Payne's feature about the film in Radio Times by clicking here

The Production Team

Peter Beard - Director/Cameraman

Peter specialises in challenging and thought provoking observational documentaries. From high profile series like '24 Hours in Police Custody' and '24 Hours in A & E', to one-off films like ‘Otto: Love Lust and Las Vegas’ and ‘Young, Angry and White’ he has worked for all the major broadcasters.

Peter recently shot and produced Bedlam, a BAFTA winning series made at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.

Richard Kerbaj - Producer

Richard is the Security Correspondent for The Sunday Times who has specialised in reporting on issues relating to terrorism for the last decade. The profile piece he wrote about Sally Evans for his newspaper in June 2014 inspired the documentary, My Son the Jihadi.

Prior to joining The Sunday Times in 2010, Richard worked on The Times for around two years covering local and foreign stories and served as the paper's bureau chief in Baghdad for two months in 2009.

An award-winning journalist, Richard began his career in Australia, working on a range of broadsheets, including The Australian, The Age and The Financial Review.

Read Richard's account of making the film in Grazia here

If you suspect a family member or friend is being radicalised...

Active Change Foundation have a confidential helpline. Call 020 8539 2770

Potential warning signs of radicalisation.

Physical changes:

· Sudden or gradual change in physical appearance

· Sudden or unexpectedly wearing religious attire

· Getting tattoos displaying various messages

· Unexpectedly growing a beard

· Unexpectedly shaving their head (skinhead)

· Possesses unexplained gifts and clothing (groomers will sometimes use gifts such as mobile phones and clothing to bribe a young person)

Social changes:

· Cuts ties with their friends, family or community

· Starts to become socially withdrawn

· Becoming dependent on social media and the internet

· Begins to associate with others who hold radical views

· Bullies or demonises other people freely

· Begins to attend rallies and demonstrations for extremist causes

· Associates with known radicals

· Visits extremist websites, networks and blogs

Emotional and verbal changes:

· Begins to complain, often with anger, about governmental policies, especially foreign policy

· Advocates violence or criminal behaviour

· Begins to believe in government conspiracies

· Exhibits erratic behaviour such as paranoia and delusion

· Speaks about seeking revenge

· Starts to exhibit extreme religious intolerance

· Demonstrates sympathy to radical groups

· Displays hatred or intolerance of other people or communities because they are different


Organisations that can help:-

The Active Change Foundation - online on Facebook@Active_Change_F, YouTube and Tumblr

The Ramadan Tent Project - online, on Facebook@RamadanTent, YouTube and Instagram

Inspire - online, on Facebook, @wewillinspire, Vimeo and YouTube

Quilliam Foundation online, on Facebook and @QuilliamF

Read Producer, Richard Kerbaj's recent features about Sally and Thomas in the Sunday Times and The Sun by clicking on the articles below

The Mirror's interview with Sally

And Richard's original article on the family from 2014


Further Reading

Till Martyrdom So Us Part - Gender and ISIS

No Place for Children - Human Rights Watch report on Somalia

Documenting the Virtual Caliphate - Quilliam Foundation

Deradicalising Islamist Extremists - RAND National Security Research