Scottish Daily Mail
450 jihadis back in UK but has a single passport been seized?
AROUND 450 British extremists have been allowed back into the country after fighting in Syria – a major leap on the figure of 350 given by police only six months ago.
Last night’s revelation by the head of the Home Office’s counter-terrorism unit will raise questions over whether the Government is using its power to remove the passports of UK jihadists seeking to return.
The controversial law came into force in February, but senior Whitehall sources say it has been used rarely, if at all.
Charles Farr, director of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, said about 750 British citizens ‘of interest to the security and intelligence services’ had travelled to Syria, of whom ‘about 60 per cent have returned’.
He also said that up to 70 Britons had been killed in the region.
The new figure was first delivered to a conference last week before the Paris attacks. Mr Farr said those travelling to Syria were getting ‘much younger’, with more women and children. Last night the Home Office said that in 2013 and 2014 Home Secretary Theresa May had removed passports from 39 extremists to stop them travelling abroad, mostly to Syria.
A spokesman said: ‘These figures refer to occasions where an individual’s passport was either revoked or their application for a passport was withdrawn on public interest grounds.’
But officials refused to disclose how many times the Government had removed the passports of jihadists returning from Syria, on the grounds that it is a relatively new power.
The legislation, demanded by the Prime Minister, says fanatics should not be allowed to re-enter the country unless they agree to a deradicalisation programme.
However, critics question whether it will ever be widely used, as it is unclear what would happen to any British citizen who refused. It is almost impossible under international law to deliberately render a person stateless.
As investigators scrambled to discover how many of the Paris gunmen had entered Europe posing as asylum seekers, Britain is preparing to receive its first charter flight of refugees from Syria tomorrow. A total of 1,000 refugees are due by Christmas.
Mrs May insisted yesterday that all the new arrivals had been screened twice – by the UN and by the British authorities.
Security officials insist there is no evidence of Islamic State or other terror groups using the British asylum system to enter the country.
One insider said: ‘Anybody claiming has their biometric details taken in full. That does not make sense if you have terrorist intentions and are seeking to avoid detection.’
The danger, however, is that terrorists will enter Europe posing as asylum seekers, then sneak in through Britain’s porous borders undetected.
Security has been stepped up to try to stop automatic weapons entering the UK hidden in cars or small boats.
Raffaello Pantucci, director of international security studies at the Rusi think-tank, said that while he believed a network of radicals wanting to attack London was not unlikely, they would struggle to get hold of automatic weapons like those that caused carnage in Paris.
He added: ‘The thing with London is that it’s harder to get these kinds of weapons.
‘It could happen, but the reality is that if you look back at the terrorist plots in the UK that have involved guns, any that did have not been automatic weapons.’
Last night a Downing Street spokesman said: ‘As the situation continues to unfold, we are working closely with the French authorities, through our security and intelligence agencies, police and Border Force, and our embassy in Paris.’
Leaders of the G20 industrialised nations are today expected to step up their calls for increased border controls.
In a draft statement circulating last night, the leaders voiced concern over the ‘acute and growing flow of foreign terrorist fighters and the threat it poses for all states, including countries of origin, transit and destination’.
They added they would co-operate with measures to improve information sharing, border management and aviation security.
‘1,000 refugees are due by Christmas’