The security service MI5 is warning that 50 “British jihadis” who have been fighting in Syria have returned to the UK and are planning to attack the British mainland.
According to the Daily Mirror intelligence officers believe the men – experts in explosives and weapons – are out for revenge after the Home Office vowed to crack down on “terror tourists” battling and training abroad. Around 250 British Muslims are thought to have returned from Syria.
A security source told the Mirror: “The very laws banning their jihad travels may goad so-called reformed jihadists into violence. Having had a taste of the frontline and seeing fellow extremists become martyrs they could turn on mainland Britain. It is very important extremist groups are identified and monitored to make sure they do not endanger British lives.”
Anti-terror police have stepped up the monitoring of so-called “extremist mosques” and border officials are tightening checks on suspects trying to return from Syria.
Arrests linked to Syria are soaring, with 16 so far this year, compared to 24 for all of 2013. Suspects can get life in jail for “acts preparatory to terrorism and assisting a person in such activities” and they can get 10 years for “training as a terrorist”.
Abdul Waheed Majeed, of Crawley, West Sussex, blew himself up earlier this month by driving a lorry full of explosives through the walls of Aleppo prison in Syria.
Shiraz Maher, of the right-wing International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London, told the Mirror: “Regarding the risk to Britain, bear in mind that post 9/11 most attempted attacks were bungled as the terrorists didn’t know what they were doing.
“But Syria is a permissive arena for blowing things up and shooting at people so they know what they are doing with guns and explosives and it’s a genuine worry.”
It is thought there are about 400 fighters from the UK in Syria. Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said recently: “We are concerned about the number of British people going to Syria for humanitarian reasons or to get involved in the war. When they return and they are radicalised, they may be militarised, they may have a network of people that train them to use weapons.”
However, human rights organisation CAGE has questioned why Britain is hell bent on criminalising people going to Syria.
In a recent article Moazzam Begg from CAGE said British Muslims fighting in Syria are doing so to topple a dictatorship and are not going there to join Al Qaeda.
He wrote: “It is not hard to understand why Muslims would want to go out to Syria to help. Scores of them go every month on humanitarian aid missions and face endless questioning at ports by British police under schedule 7 anti-terrorism powers. It is also understandable why people want to go out and fight for what they believe is a just cause, even if the wisdom of them doing so can be questioned…
“It is widely accepted that foreign fighters, including Britons, have been battling and dying alongside Syria’s rebels since 2011 and their numbers have increased over the last year. What is not established with any veracity is the suggestion that there has been a single act of terrorism carried out on British – or European – soil connected to Britons returning from Syria. Not a single one.”