The programme aims to spot children who are vulnerable to Islamic radicalisation and was revealed by Sir Norman Bettison, the chief constable of West Yorkshire Police and Britain’s most senior officer in charge of terror prevention.
The ‘Channel project’ has intervened in at least 200 cases of children though to be at risk since it began 18 months ago.
It is run by the Association of Chief Police Officers and asks teachers, parents and community figures to watch for signs of extremist views or whether a child is being ‘groomed’ by radicalisers.
Sir Norman told The Independent: ‘What will often manifest itself is what might be regarded as racism and the adoption of bad attitudes towards “the West”.
One of the four bombers of July 7 was, on the face of it, a model student. He had never been in trouble with the police, was the son of a well-established family and was employed and integrated into society.
But when we went back to his teachers they remarked on the things he used to write. In exercise books he had written comments praising al-Qaeda.
‘That was not seen at the time as being substantive. Now we would hope that teachers might intervene, speak to the child’s family or perhaps the local imam who could then speak to the young man.’
The Channel project currently operates in West Yorkshire, the Midlands, Bedfordshire and South Wales, after it was piloted in Lancashire and the London borough of Lambeth in 2007.
It is due to be rolled out to the rest of London, Thames Valley, South Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and West Sussex.
It is funded by the Home Office and involves officers working with Muslim communities to identify impressionable children or those who already show an interest in extremist material on the internet or in books.
These children are then subject to ‘a programme of intervention tailored to the needs of the individual’.
Sir Norman said discussions would begin with family, outreach workers or local imams and some cases had seen direct police intervention.
He said: ‘With the help of these communities we can identify the kids who are vulnerable to the message and are influenced by the message.
‘The challenge is to intervene and offer guidance, not necessarily prosecute them, but to address their grievance, their growing sense of hate and potential to do something violent in the name of some misinterpretation of a faith.
‘We are targeting criminals and would-be terrorists who happen to be cloaking themselves in Islamic rhetoric. That is not the same as targeting the Muslim community.’
But there are concerns the programme could infringe children’s privacy.
Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain said: ‘There is a difference between the police being concerned or believing a person may be at risk of recruitment and a person actually engaging in unlawful, terrorist activity.
‘That said, clearly in recent years some people have been lured by terrorist propaganda emanating from al-Qa'ida-inspired groups.
'It would seem that a number of Muslim youngsters have been seduced by that narrative and all of us, including the Government, have a role to play in making sure that narrative is seen for what it is: a nihilistic one which offers no hope, only death and destruction.’
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘The aim of the Channel project is to directly support vulnerable people by providing supportive interventions when families, communities and networks raise concerns about their behaviour.’