January 25, 2014 4:23 pm

Police focus on British jihadis fighting in Syria

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A masked Sunni Muslim gunman takes position with his weapon during clashes with Iraqi security forces outside Falluja

British jihadis who have gone to fight in Syria face arrest when they return home, according to one of the UK’s most senior police chiefs.

Sir Peter Fahy, the chief constable of Greater Manchester Police said there was “huge concern” over the return of British citizens who had travelled to the Levant to fight the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

So far this year, 16 people have been arrested on suspicion of terror offences after travelling back to the UK from Syria, compared with 24 in the whole of 2013.

Speaking to the BBC’s Today programme on Saturday morning, Sir Peter said that intelligence agencies across Europe were trying to keep tabs on citizens leaving to fight in Syria.

There is a “real worry” Sir Peter said that individuals “may be radicalised . . . may have been engaged in terrorist training and . . . may be a threat when they come back.”

“We are stopping people at the border going out there . . . some people have been arrested, other people have been put into our programmes to try and help them,” said Sir Peter.

Police forces around the country have a “huge number” of officers working on the problem, he added.

UK security chiefs believe “several hundred” Britons to have travelled to Syria so far to become jihadis.

The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at Kings College in London estimates there to now be over 11,000 foreign fighters in Syria, with a high-end estimate of as many as 366 from the UK.

Shiraz Maher, senior fellow at the ICSR said he expects the number of UK fighters returning to increase significantly. “You can seek a peak of people coming back to the UK,” he said. “It’s pretty clear that they become highly radicalised when they are out there. They imbibe the al-Qaeda narrative – highly anti-Shia, sectarian, anti-state, anti-Western, and interested in the establishment of an extreme sharia caliphate.”

The UK is not alone in having a large foreign fighter population in Syria. Belgium, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands all have larger foreign fighter populations per capita than Britain, according to ICSR research.

The highest numbers of foreign fighters in Syria come from the region, however. Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Jordan and Lebanon have all seen large numbers of their citizens go to fight in the conflict.

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