The Brighton 18-year-old we feature on today’s front page left his job in an Adidas store, went for a farewell carvery lunch with sixth-form friends and told them he was off to visit relatives in Libya. Instead he headed to Syria to fight for the rebels with two of his brothers, aged 16 and 20, against the forces of Bashar al-Assad.
His parents say they did not know he was in Syria and only found out on Facebook on Monday that he had been killed – a photo circulated among school friends showing Abdullah Deghayes dead.
“I never encouraged my sons to go. We are very sad for the loss of Abdullah,” said his devastated father Abubakr yesterday, speaking in Saltdean, a village on the chalk cliffs of East Sussex. “I can at least take some comfort from the fact that he went for a just cause to protect those that are killed or dying and need help.”
An estimated 400 young British men are believed to have travelled to Syria over the past couple of years, with intelligence chiefs warning that some have gone to wage “jihad” and will return radicalised. The intelligence services have also intercepted British-Muslim men from the Midlands and Yorkshire in Afghanistan.
When Abdullah was a young boy his uncle was held in Guantanamo Bay. But based on what we currently know it is wrong to label him a “jihadi” – if we take the common-English definition of a jihadi as a radicalised Islamist fighter or self-defined holy warrior. As we went to press, no evidence had emerged of Abdullah having radical links in the UK.
Western security officials have previously remarked on how difficult it is to establish whether British fighters in Syria have joined moderate rebel groups, or extremists. In this case, his brothers hold some of the answers: 20-year-old Amer, who has been shot in the stomach, and younger sibling Jaffar, 16. That will be some conversation with their parents.