More British Muslims intercepted on way to join Mehdi army in Najaf, MP reveals

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The Independent Online

More British Muslims have been stopped by the security services from going to Iraq to join the Mehdi Army to fight US forces in Najaf, a Conservative MP said last night.

Patrick Mercer, the opposition spokesman on homeland security, said two men from London who had joined the militia of Muqtada Sadr were terrorists and were committing treason.

Mr Mercer, a former Army officer with close links with the security services, said: "A number have been interdicted as they were trying to leave this country. I believe a number have been stopped by our security services." He said efforts should be made if combatants returned to the UK to bring them to trial for treason.

"Technically, they are clearly committing treason if they fight against our forces," he said. "David Blunkett [the Home Secretary] should make it clear that anybody who goes abroad to fight against the coalition and Iraqi forces will face the full weight of the law, and at the very least will forfeit their right to a British passport."

Nicholas Soames, the shadow Defence Secretary, said the intelligence services would be able to track the identities of those leaving Britain to join the Mehdi Army. "The intelligence services will have a very strong idea about who they are and how they got there," he said.

Two men who were brought to this country from Iraq when they were children said they returned using an illegal route with their families' approval to fight the Americans. Both, who have British passports, told journalists they did not support Osama bin Laden and the al-Qa'ida network and denied that joining the Shia militia amounted to terrorism.

"Bin Laden and his group are totally against our belief, killing innocent civilians," said one man, aged 23, a former supermarket worker in London, who is now using the nom de guerre Abu Haqid (Father of Fury). "Killing innocent people we cannot do. That is terrorism. This is defending your country."

They said they had considered going to Iraq for months and decided to do so when Sadr emerged as a strong leader. They talked to other Muslims in the UK about joining the Shia militia.

"Some said they would wait and see what happens to us. We told them our brothers are fighting down there, they are not eating well, they are not sleeping well. We have to be in the same place as them, the same position as them."