Syria civil war: Hundreds of radicalised fighters are already back in the UK, warns former MI6 chief

June 22, 2014

Hundreds of veteran fighters from Syria and Iraq are already back in Britain, among them radicalised jihadists intent on mounting terror attacks. And British intelligence services face an “impossible” task in trying to track them, a leading security expert warned last night. The grim warning from Richard Barrett, the former head of counter-terrorism at MI6, who spent more than a decade tracking the Taliban for the United Nations, comes amid escalating fears over the threat posed by returning foreign fighters from the twin conflicts. Mr Barrett estimated that “possibly up to 300 people have come back to the UK” already.

Further evidence of the British links with jihadists in Iraq emerged yesterday with confirmation that gap-year student Nasser Muthana, 20, from Cardiff, was one of a number of Britons who feature in a film posted online to recruit fighters. In the propaganda film, the medical student says: “Oh you who believe, answer the call of Allah and his messenger when he calls you …. What gives you life is jihad.” In the video, released by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis), he speaks of the “brothers” he fights alongside. Two other men who claim to be British – along with two Australians – also feature in the film, titled: “There is no life without jihad.”

Mr Barrett is co-author of a new report, released this month, which states that the Syrian war “is likely to be an incubator for a new generation of terrorists” and reveals that more than 12,000 foreign fighters have gone to Syria since the war began. That is more than the 10,000 who went to Afghanistan during the decade-long jihad against Russian occupation. One in four foreign fighters in Syria is from the West – part of a global phenomenon, with fighters from more than 80 countries represented on the battlefield.

The report cites the importance in securing the support of the communities that fighters return to, both for “successful reintegration” and for “identifying them and sorting out which of them may pose the greatest threat”. Around 500 people from Britain have joined the ranks of Isis, and tracking British jihadists fighting in Syria is now the top priority for British intelligence, it emerged.