A minister who said the only way of dealing with British Islamic State (IS) fighters in Syria was to kill most of them has defended the comments.
Rory Stewart said converts to the terror group believed in an “extremely hateful doctrine” and fighters can expect to be killed given the threat they pose to British security.
But the International Development minister later insisted he believed combatants should be dealt with “in accordance with the law” and would face the British legal system if they returned to the UK.
The Tory MP said he made the comments about most being wiped out because an Isis recruit “usually fights to the death”.
“Clearly combatants should be treated in accordance with law,” he said. “My point was simply that Isis is a death-cult which usually fights to the death.”
Downing Street backed the minister, insisting his comments were “consistent” with the Government’s “determination to fight and defeat Daesh terrorists regardless of their nationality”.
Hundreds of British citizens are known to have travelled to Syria to fight with Islamist groups during the course of the six-year conflict.
Brett McGurk, a top US envoy for the coalition fighting IS, has said his mission is to ensure every foreign IS fighter in Syria dies in Syria.
Mr Stewart was asked about the comments on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics and described them as “very difficult moral issues”, adding: “These are people who have essentially moved away from any kind of allegiance towards the British Government.
“They are absolutely dedicated, as members of the Islamic State, towards the creation of a caliphate, they believe in an extremely hateful doctrine which involves killing themselves, killing others and trying to use violence and brutality to create an eighth century, or seventh century, state.
“So I’m afraid we have to be serious about the fact these people are a serious danger to us, and unfortunately the only way of dealing with them will be, in almost every case, to kill them.”
Mr Stewart, a former diplomat, went on to say: “These are people who are executing people in the back of their heads, who have held women and children hostage, who are torturing and murdering, trying by violence to impose their will.
“Our response has to be, when somebody does that, I’m afraid, to deal with that.”
Downing Street said Mr Stewart’s comments were “consistent” with the Government’s “determination to fight and defeat Daesh terrorists regardless of their nationality”.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “In relation to people who have taken the decision to go and fight for Daesh in Syria or Iraq, as the Defence Secretary said, you have made yourself a legitimate target.”
For Britons who return to the UK from the war zone “everybody can expect to be investigated and where there is evidence to prosecute that prosecution, while a decision for the CPS, should take place”.