First published on FrontPage Magazine.
By Enza Ferreri
Some of the “freedom fighters” who are at war against the evil tyrant Assad in Syria, the “rebels” whom both Obama and Cameron wanted to help, have now been re-classified as “the biggest threat to Britain's security” and a “greater threat than al-Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan”. The British Home Office identifies Syria as “the most significant development in global terrorism.”
More than half of anti-terror investigations by the UK security service MI5 involve “Britons” who went to fight in Syria. Charles Farr - the Home Office’s terror chief - and others warned that the Syrian war is stoking the biggest terror threat to the West since September 11, and this problem is predicted to persist for as long as the hostilities will continue.
Syria is much closer to Europe than Afghanistan and Pakistan, making it a particularly easy and dangerous destination for UK Muslims who come back well trained, armed and ready for business: terrorism. And because the security services monitor about half of them, the risk is very high.
Robert Spencer asks some pertinent questions:
Why aren’t they monitoring the rest? And why were these men let back into the country in the first place? Simply because they’re citizens? (Are they even all citizens?)In the past three years, from the beginning of the conflict, no fewer than 500 Britons have travelled to Syria to fight, many more than the corresponding number for Iraq. According to French President Francois Hollande, they are actually up to 700.
Between 250 and 400 of them are believed to be back with us, although the number may be higher. Apparently, they found life there “too hard”, so they say. But they may have been encouraged to return “home” in order to carry out attacks in the UK.
Hundreds more are still in Syria, and one of them has posted an internet video urging his coreligionists in Britain to join them and help their Syrian brothers and sisters, saying: "The doors of jihad are still open." He is a member of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a group which wants Syria to become an Islamic state ruled by Sharia law and which is considered too extreme even by Al-Qaeda, that officially disowned it. The first provincial capital to be occupied by ISIS was the city of Raqqa, on whose Christian community it has imposed payment of the jizya and other rules associated with the dhimmi status.
These are people who know their Islam, no doubt. They’ve forced even the BBC reporters to become familiar with the triple choice: convert, submit, die.
Aymenn al-Tamimi, a University of Oxford expert on Iraqi and Syrian jihadists, said:
In case ISIS’s ambitions to a global caliphate were still not apparent to anyone, ISIS’s official Twitter account for Raqqa province had this to say on the imposition of the dhimmi pact: ‘Today in Raqqa and tomorrow in Rome.’ISIS uses British radicalised recruits, like Anil Khalil Raoufi, the University of Liverpool student of engineering who was recently killed in Syria.
The Syrian war is helping to accelerate the “final solution” for Christians in the Middle East.
The rebels’ ruthlessness is not in question. A Facebook video shows a British jihadist in Syria torturing and executing another jihadi who had insulted Allah, with the caption: “I can’t wait for feeling you get when U just killed some1.”
“Who are the British jihadists in Syria?” asks the BBC. The answer: “The Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King's College London says most British jihadists are university-educated Muslims of British Pakistani origin in their 20s.” Ah! And I thought that, as the Left says, violent jihad and Muslim terrorism are caused by poverty and deprivation. It turns out that, once again, these people are mainly middle class.
UK security services last autumn intercepted a plot by "British" jihadists returning from Syria planning a Nairobi-style gun attack on civilians in a crowded location, maybe in London.
Furthermore, Al-Qaeda urged “lone wolf” terrorists trained in Syria to target the Queen with bomb attacks at British sporting events, including the Derby. Cheltenham races, Wimbledon and Football Association Cup matches are other recommended potential targets that could cause “maximum carnage”.
The recommendations come from Inspire, an English-language online magazine produced by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), that lists Britain as Al Qaeda's biggest target after America.
The big question is: what to do?
Robert Spencer is not the only one calling for not letting Syria jihadists back into the UK. The Week has a sensible suggestion:
Pass a law forbidding any British subject from travelling to Syria - unless registered with a charity authorised by the Foreign Office...The UK’s Home Office, despite tough talking, has let these potential terrorists back into the country. We’ve heard threats to arrest and prosecute them from the Crown Prosecution Service.
But anyone suspected of making an unauthorised trip to Syria would not be re-admitted to the United Kingdom. Put up posters to that effect at every airport and seaport... "If you travel to Syria illegally, you will not be allowed to return here."
Preventing any more of these jihadists coming 'home' would be the simplest solution. Dealing with an attack by such men once it kicks off will be difficult. Terrorists on shooting sprees of this kind inflict damage quickly, relying on a shock effect to cow their intended victims. No doubt the SAS or SBS will arrive, but even they will be lucky to arrive in time.
The butcher's bills have been quite severe. Mumbai: 153 killed and more than 600 wounded. Nairobi: 67 dead and 175 wounded. In both cases hundreds of millions of pounds worth of damage were also caused to property. Imagine if something similar were to happen in London.
There have been arrests: while only 24 people last year, already 20 this year, including Moazzam Begg, a former Guantánamo detainee – yes, one of those innocent souls – whose trial date has been set in October.
But his arrest has caused protests from the Muslim community, claiming that they are being unfairly targeted. What’s new?
That has made government officials even more “aware of the thin line they must tread in dealing with the problem” than they already were.
UK Muslim charities delivering aid in Syria complain that they risk being arrested for terrorism on their volunteers’ return home – as if one eighth of zakat (Islamic charity) were not obliged to finance jihad according to Sharia law.
In fact, ten Muslim charities linked to Syria are under surveillance after Adeel Ali, the head of a UK charity that raised thousands of pounds from the British public for Syria, has been photographed embracing masked fighters brandishing an AK47.
With Islam, you never know where the money supposedly for charity ends up. There’s ample evidence of "charity workers" in Syria supporting jihadi "martyrs”.
The Left, as usual, sides with the Muslim community, and has accused the government, like George Monbiot in The Guardian making this historical comparison: ‘If George Orwell and Laurie Lee were to return from the Spanish civil war today, they would be arrested under section five of the Terrorism Act 2006.”
But a legitimate question has been raised: how can a government, like the British one, which only a few months ago was prepared to join the war against Assad and be allied to the same "fighters" on whose side these jihadists are battling, now consider them criminals? Isn’t it a bit inconsistent? This, after all, is the same government that openly supports the downfall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backs the Syrian rebels pursuing this goal, lost a parliamentary vote on military intervention in Syria last year - and is fully aware that its allies in the Gulf are funding al-Qaeda affiliated groups in Syria. This inconsistency clearly shows how that pro-rebel stance is a terrible error.
And how likely is it that anything will be done to British-citizen Syrian jihadists now, when in an analogous situation in the case of the NATO-backed uprising in Libya in 2011 no British jihadi fighting in Libya was arrested? After all, to punish them would be “Islamophobic”.