Scottish Daily Mail

450 ji­hadis back in UK but has a sin­gle pass­port been seized?

- By James Slack Po­lit­i­cal Ed­i­tor Crime · Terrorism · UK News · Politics · United Kingdom · Home Office · Whitehall · Paris · Theresa May · European Union · United Nations · ISIS · London · G20

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’

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