TRACKING British jihadists who go to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside insurgents has become the top priority for the UK’s security services, it was claimed yesterday.
The announcement came after a video emerged apparently showing Britons in the country urging UK Muslims to join insurgents in Syria and Iraq. Yesterday Sir Peter Fahy, who leads the Prevent counter-terrorism strategy for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said around 500 Britons had travelled to Syria and Iraq – a higher estimate than the 400 claimed by Foreign Secretary William Hague.
He said: “Our estimate at the moment is around 500 people. There is a huge amount of effort going on both abroad and in this country trying to identify people who may have gone out there to track their movements and, particularly, to make sure that we detain them when they try and get back into this country.”
Sir Peter acknowledged that “some of the estimates have been higher than that, we have to be honest and say we don’t absolutely know” but “it is the top priority for the security services and for counter- terrorism police and police in general”.
He said “huge amounts of material” was being taken down from the internet every week as part of the effort to stop people being radicalised.
The Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable warned against “demonising the Muslim community itself” and said: “The vast majority of Muslim people are really worried about this situation and are working with us to try and identify those people that may be at risk.”
Concerns about Islamist extremism in British society have been heightened by the so-called Trojan horse plot in Birmingham schools, but Sir Peter stressed the importance of working with Muslim communities.
Asked whether comments by politicians were putting more people at risk of radicalisation, he told the BBC: “I can only reflect what leaders in the Muslim community say to me. We need to challenge extremists, the issues about the schools is very worrying, but we do need to do it in a way that tries to work with all communities – which works with the Muslim community but also has this hard edge of concentrating on those really dangerous people and making it clear that anyone who does go to Syria is at huge personal risk but also, obviously, we will be tracking them and trying to make sure they are detained when they come back into the country.
“So it has got to be a mixture of the two things, but there is a huge amount of effort going into the material on social media, we are taking down huge amounts of material every week, but also this wider work with other agencies to try and identify people who may be at risk.”
In the 13-minute video, entitled “There Is No Life Without Jihad”, three British fighters announce they are preparing to travel to Iraq to fight there.
One of the men in the film, propaganda for the extremist militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis), is a 20-year-old aspiring medical student from Cardiff.
Nasser Muthana, who goes by the name Abu Muthanna al-Yemeni, travelled to Syria with his 17-year-old brother Aseel Muthana after disappearing in November.
His father, Ahmed Muthana, said yesterday his elder son had been accepted at four universities to study medicine but did not go. Instead he thinks Muthana – who gained 11 GCSEs and enjoyed swimming and football – was “brainwashed” and radicalised in the UK.
Muthana is one of three men, apparently Britons, who appear in the video, which calls for their countrymen to “answer the call and fight for Allah”. In the footage, Muthana claims the rebels have fighters from as far afield as Cambodia, Australia and the UK.
“We are a state who is implementing the Sharia in both Iraq and the Sham. And look at the soldiers, we understand no borders,” he says.
“We have participated in battles in Sham and we will go to Iraq in a few days and we will fight there.
“We will even go to Lebanon and Jordan with no problems, wherever our Sheikh (Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) wants to send us.”
A second British fighter in the video, who goes by the name Abu Bara’ al-Hindi, asks: “Are you willing to sacrifice the fat job you’ve got, the big car you’ve got, the family you’ve got? Are you willing to sacrifice this for the sake of Allah?”
Muthana said the family had been told a few weeks ago his son was in Turkey, and the views in the video were not his son’s real opinions.
Muthana said: “To be honest, I don’t agree with him but I don’t know what he has been taught in his mind.”
He added: “Of course I fear he will be injured or die fighting, but I can do nothing. They are conservative Muslim, they don’t have girlfriends, they don’t talk to girls.
“Of course they were influenced in the UK, but to be honest I don’t know. In the mosque, the people of the mosque won’t tell me anything. Who will encourage them, someone on the street? No, it has to be the mosque, but which mosque, I don’t know. They also spend a lot of time on their computer.”
The government is treating the growing threat from Isis with ever-greater seriousness.
On Thursday, the terror group was added to a list of banned organisations, making it an offence to be a member. Four other Syria-linked terror groups were also banned.
Prime Minister David Cameron has insisted “everything that can be done is being done” to stop Britons being radicalised overseas.