Britain is home to more jihadis who have returned from Syria than almost all other countries, a new report reveals today.
Only Turkey, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia are home to more people who travelled to fight for ISIS than the UK.
Around 850 Britons travelled to the Middle East to take part in the war and around half are thought to be back in the UK – meaning more than 400 are still at large.
The figure is higher than the 300 returnees to Germany and 271 to France.
The report warns there has also been a surge in the number of women involved in attacks – with nearly a quarter of terror plots in Europe from the start of 2017 to May involving women.
In other developments, the independent reviewer of terror laws Max Hill warned the Government against ‘criminalising thought’ with a raft of new terror laws as promised in the Tory manifesto.
Mohammed Emwazi, better known as Jihadi John, was among the highest profile Britons who went to Syria to fight for ISIS. He was killed in a US drone strike in November 2015
International Development Minister Rory Stewart MP has said the only way of dealing with most British jihadis is to kill them. Pictured is a ISIS fighter waving the group’s flag in Raqqa
Today’s research comes after Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon repeated warnings that Britons fighting in Syria could be killed by RAF drone strikes.
A Conservative backbencher today warned a failure to prosecute everyone who returned from fighting for ISIS sent a ‘positive signal’ they were allowed to fight British soldiers overseas.
The paper, written by Richard Barrett, a former director of global counter-terrorism at MI6, said: ‘While returning foreign fighters have not as yet added significantly to the threat of terrorism around the world, the number of attacks inspired or directed by the Islamic State continues to rise.
‘All returnees, whatever their reason for going home, will continue to pose some degree of risk.’
Previous research has suggested that overall more than 40,000 individuals travelled to join Islamic State from more than 110 nations both before and after it declared a caliphate in June 2014.
The new assessment calculates that at least 5,600 citizens or residents have gone back to their home countries.
HOW MANY FORMER JIHADIS HAVE COME HOME?
Saudi Arabia: 760
It says: ‘Added to the unknown numbers from other countries, this represents a huge challenge for security and law enforcement entities.’
The report notes that most returnees ‘will be unlikely to experience anything in their lives at home that matches the intensity of their experience as a member of IS, whether or not they were fighting on the front line’.
It adds: ‘If on return they begin again to feel as rootless and lacking in purpose as they did before they left, then they are unlikely to settle back easily into a ‘normal’ life, and as IS increases its external campaign, both through action and propaganda,returnees may be particularly vulnerable to contact from people who were part of the network that recruited them, or appeals for help from ex-comrades in arms.
‘It seems probable that the influence and involvement of returnees will grow as their numbers increase.’
Sir Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary (pictured yesterday in the House of Commons) said Brits who have fought with ISIS have made their choice and face being killed
Questions over how returning extremists are managed by the counter-terrorism agencies have intensified as IS comes under fierce military pressure.
Kettering MP Philip Hollobone said his constituents were ‘increasingly alarmed’ about the number of British jihadists that had joined the terror group in Iraq and Syria and were not prosecuted when they return home.
Kettering MP Philip Hollobone said his constituents were ‘increasingly alarmed’ about the number of British jihadists that had joined the terror group in Iraq and Syria and were not prosecuted when they return home
Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt said it was not about rounding people up with no legal basis to do so, though anyone who could put the UK at risk should expect to be questioned and monitored by security services.
Backbencher Mr Hollobone said: ‘Please correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t believe there’s been a single prosecution for any offence.
‘Can I make the minister try and understand that if no effective action is taken against these people in this country, that is a positive signal for future potential jihadists to say we can go off and fight British services overseas, because nothing will happen to us when we return.’
In reply, Mr Burt said any decision to prosecute would be taken by the police and Crown Prosecution Service on a case-by-case basis.
‘That requires evidence of what people have done,’ he said.
At the weekend a Government minister suggested the only way of dealing with most British IS fighters in Syria was to kill them.
Rory Stewart, the international development minister, later emphasised that combatants should be dealt with ‘in accordance with law’.
His remarks came days after Max Hill QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, called for a focus on ‘reintegration’ in cases where authorities have decided individuals who return should not face prosecution.
Mr Hill said it was right that security services have left space for those who travelled out of a sense of naivety, at a young age and who return in a ‘state of utter disillusionment’ to be diverted away from the criminal courts.
In a speech tonight, Mr Hill will warn against a raft of new terror laws.
He will tell human rights campaign Justice: ‘We do not, and should not, criminalise thought without action or preparation for action.
‘Whilst we can all agree that there should be nowhere for real terrorists to hide, we should also agree that legislating in the name of terrorism when the targeted activity is not actually terrorism would be quite wrong.’