Echoing concerns that American citizens are traveling overseas to join Islamist fighters, the senior official responsible for immigration in the United Kingdom is warning homegrown terrorists are traveling from Britain to Syria and Somalia, getting training in jihadi tradecraft and then returning back to Britain where they could pose a future danger to the homeland.
“What we have seen for some time now, is that a number of British people travelling out to Somalia, we’re now seeing people travel out to Syria,” British Home Secretary Theresa May told the BBC on Sunday.
Fighters from Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra take their positions on the front line during a clash with Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al Assad in Aleppo, Dec. 24, 2012. (Photo: Ahmed Jadallah /REUTERS)
“Obviously, in those circumstances, some of those people are potential terrorists, some of whom may get training, and in some cases may actually engage in conflict and then return to the UK,” she said.
In her evaluation, those fighters are “potential terrorists, some of whom will be of a Jihadi mind-set.”
“We can never be complacent, we must always look to see if there is something more that we can be doing,” May said of the concentrated efforts at protecting the home front.
The British assessment reflects a similar concern being voiced in the U.S. that Americans are also being attracted to the Al Qaeda affiliates in Syria.
Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Mike Rogers told The Daily Beast last month, “At some point all of these people from Europe are going home. All the folks there from all over the world, including the United States, will be coming home if they do not meet their end on the battlefield.”
The Syrian civil war is a “jihadist magnet,” the Michigan Republican added.
According to The Daily Beast, intelligence estimates vary on exactly how many Americans have traveled overseas on jihad, with numbers ranging from ten to 60 U.S. citizens. This compared with hundreds of Europeans who have joined Al Qaeda affiliates in Syria.
Home Secretary May’s statement comes just one month after four individuals were arrested in the UK over suspected terrorist activity in Syria. The BBC reports that ammunition was also seized.
Foreign Secretary William Hague has also warned that a "substantial number" of British citizens have traveled to Syria to join the ranks of extremist rebels. Al Qaeda-linked groups including the Al Nusra Front would like to transform Syria into a Muslim theocracy guided by Sharia law.
Hague said those British citizens fighting in the jihadi groups could pose a future threat to the UK.
According to the Daily Telegraph, the independent government agency which regulates British charities is warning that donations being collected for Syrian refugees are “undoubtedly” going to extremist rebel groups.
Charity Commission Chairman William Shawcross said, “A lot of money is raised that goes to Syria, some of it undoubtedly goes to extremist groups... It is very hard for all organizations to determine that.” He did not specify how much was landing with Islamist groups.
The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), a group that represents the UK’s 14 largest charities and which has launched a “Syria Crisis Appeal,” also says it can’t guarantee the money it raises is not falling into terrorist hands.
A spokesman tells The Telegraph, “It is never possible to entirely eliminate such risks if you wish to help those in greatest need but DEC members take all reasonable steps to avoid, uncover and minimize such losses.”
The group has raised more than $32 million since it launched the Syria appeal in March, according to its website.