Growing fears over Britons radicalised in Syrian conflict


Crime Correspondent

Britons travelling to Syria with amateur aid convoys are at threat of becoming radicalised by terrorist groups and should stay at home, a Government minister has warned.

The return to Britain of armed, trained and dangerous fighters from conflict in the Middle Eastern state will be a significant threat for the foreseeable future, said James Brokenshire, the Home Office minister responsible for security. Senior officials have highlighted the threat from groups travelling to Syria determined to fight and those who go with the intention of taking humanitarian aid but become radicalised while they are there.

It follows the case of the suicide bomber Abdul Waheed Majeed, 41, who is believed to have driven a lorry filled with explosives into a prison in Aleppo earlier this month in an attempt to release hundreds of prisoners. He entered the country with an aid convoy after his mosque in Crawley had raised tens of thousands of pounds to help refugees, and made the journey in a fleet of old ambulances.

A report in The Sunday Times on Sunday cited senior security officials as saying that 250 jihadists had returned to Britain after training and fighting in Syria, described as the world’s No 1 jihadist destination. Officials have said that Britons in the “low hundreds” have travelled to Syria to join up to 2,000 European-based fighters where al-Qa’ida-linked groups, Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are active.

Police and security services are monitoring passengers on flights in and out of the region and senior police have warned that people are at threat of arrest on their return. In January, 16 people were arrested for suspected terror offences linked to Syria. That number represents two-thirds of the total for the whole of 2013.

“The situation on the ground is such that people who might think that they’re going out for humanitarian purposes may get involved in situations that they simply had not contemplated,” Mr Brokenshire said on Sunday. “People may become involved in those terrorist organisations who are killing civilians, they may be radicalised when they are out there. It’s an extremely fluid picture.”

The head of Scotland Yard, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, said last week that there were concerns about a “surge of returns” of British fighters but said the timing could not be predicted. A major return is expected when one side gains sway in the conflict, which has left some 140,000 people dead, according to one rights group.

“Our biggest worry… is when they return they are radicalised, they may have military skills and they may have a network of people that allows them to get weapons,” said Sir Bernard.

Mr Brokenshire told the BBC that Britons motivated to help the plight of the Syrians should do it in the “right way” which was by “providing the financial support to recognised organisations that are able to deliver”.

However, following the failure of the latest peace talks, the Government said the UN had to respond urgently to address the humanitarian suffering in the country.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific