Four British nationals are reported to have died fighting for rebel extremists in Syria, amid fears that British extremists could pose a terrorist threat when they return home.
Three of the men, all thought to be from London, were killed as they attacked fighters loyal to President Bashar Assad, while a fourth died two weeks later when he was shot as he ambushed an enemy position, according to The Times.
Officials and security experts said there was a growing danger that Islamists will look to radicalising more recruits in Britain, on their return to Britain. MI5 estimates that there are between 200 and 300 Britons fighting in Syria.
The likelihood grows of someone deciding that they want to punish the west for standing by as the death and destruction in Syria continue – Raffaello Pantucci, Rusi
Two men who returned from the war-torn country were arrested in London last month after allegedly being linked to a terrorist plot, The Times said.
The Foreign Office said it was looking into reports of the men’s deaths, and said that “moderate Syrians have been explicit that they want aid, not foreign fighters”.
Raffaello Pantucci, of the Royal United Services Institute, said that deaths of British fighters in Syria could lead to an increased threat of a terror attack in the UK.
“The likelihood grows of someone deciding that they want to punish the west for standing by as the death and destruction in Syria continue, as does the risk that groups on the battlefield might decide to distinguish themselves by using these foreign recruits to launch attacks in the West,” he told The Times.
The man killed during an ambush of Assad’s forces in August was named on Wednesday as Mohammed el-Araj, 23, from Ladbroke Grove, west London (pictured above).
He went by the name of Abu Khalid, and was was jailed for 18 months in 2010 after being arrested during a violent protest outside London’s Israeli embassy. He fought alongside the three other men who were killed by shelling two weeks earlier, along with nine others of different nationalities.
One of those three men, Abu Hujama al-Britani, was pictured in a photograph with the caption “ISIS shahid from West London”, a group closely linked to al-Qaeda, while a comment says he is from Hounslow in west London.
Shiraz Maher, from the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London, said: “Many Britons have made it clear they intend to stay in Syria and seek martyrdom but they are young and angry and that motivation could mutate and one day they could return to attack the west.”
Meanwhile, another Briton has spoken out about why he joined an al-Qaeda group fighting in Syria. Ifthekar Jaman, 23, from Southsea, Hampshire, told the BBC that he was engaged in jihad, or holy war, to help set up a state based on Islamic religious law.