Religious leaders call on British Muslims not to go to Syria or Iraq for jihad, amid rising fears of radicalisation in the conflicts which could spread across the globe.
An open letter signed by more than 100 imams from across major theological backgrounds and cultural groups urged British Muslim communities “to continue the generous and tireless effort to support all of those affected by the crisis in Syria and unfolding events in Iraq“, but to do so “from the UK in a safe and responsible way”.
On Thursday, US officials asked for security to be tightened at airports around the globe to prevent attacks it believes could come from terrorists in Syria or Yemen working with newly radicalised jihadis with European passports, fresh from the fighting.
British security services estimate around 500 Britons have gone to Syria to fight.
If you continue to ostracise a Muslim community, eventually somebody is going to lash out. Tauqir Sharif, aid worker
Earlier this week, Channel 4 News spoke to a Dutch jihadi fighter and trainer and a British Muslim aid worker in Syria about the fighting and why they travelled to the country. They dismissed suggestions that European Muslims would return radicalised, although said the government should calm down the rhetoric.
Yilmaz, a 26-year-old who has been in Syria for two years, said: “The goal at the moment for me and for many of the fighters and groups that are around me, is still always getting rid of this tyrant al Assad, first and foremost.”
Aid worker Tauqir Sharif added: “We came here to help people who are oppressed… I would love to return home, but I feel that I would be sitting in a prison cell. All of the anti-terror legislation is ostracising a whole Muslim community and if you can continue to ostracise a Muslim community, eventually somebody is going to lash out. If you push someone so far against the wall, there is no other choice.”
Read more from Channel 4 News on Britons in Syria
There are more fears about other British youths from Cardiff and Aberdeen, who featured in a recent recruitment video for the Islamic State (Is), which has set up a caliphate in Iraq after heavy fighting.
And another British man who claims he is fighting in Syria told the BBC on Thursday he had no intention of returning to the UK because it was “pure evil”.
Speaking on Radio5live in a Yorkshire accent, he added: “If and when I come back to Britain, it will be when this Khilafah – this Islamic state – comes to conquer Britain and I come to raise the black flag of Islam over Downing Street, over Buckingham Palace, over Tower Bridge and over Big Ben.”
The imams’ open letter read: “As the crisis in Syria and Iraq deepens, we the under-signed have come together as a unified voice to urge the British Muslim communities not to fall prey to any form of sectarian divisions or social discord.
“Ramadan, the month of mercy, teaches us the value of unity and perseverance and we urge the British Muslim communities to continue the generous and tireless efforts to support all of those affected by the crisis in Syria and unfolding events in Iraq, but to do so from the UK in a safe and responsible way.”
In April, the Met issued a plea for people to come forward with information about their family members if they were concerned about them joining terrorist training camps in Syria.
Qari Mohammed Asim, imam at Leeds Makka Mosque, who played a key role in organising the letter, said: “The scale of the humanitarian disaster in Syria and the escalating violence in Iraq calls for an unprecedented response.
“Here in the UK we are Sunnis and Shias, brothers in Islam – and brothers in Britain too… The conflict in Syria and Iraq can never change that no matter how bitter the fighting. We urge members of the community to echo this sentiment by adding their signature to this letter, joining the many others that have done so already.”
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