Up to 30 British jihadists now dead in Syria but toll will rise with Isil lure

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By Tom Whitehead, John Bingham and Sarah Knapton
Experts say reports of deaths of British jihadists in Syria and Isil’s Islamic State could actually encourage more would-be “martyrs”
Up to 30 British jihadists are now believed to have died fighting alongside Isil and other terror groups in Syria, latest estimates suggest.

The rising death toll is a sign that young British Muslims are still being sucked in by the warped ideology of Isil and are heading to the war-torn country in growing numbers.

Four British fanatics, including a teenager from Brighton, are said to have died in a single US air strike last month alone.

But the stream of reported deaths could serve as an inspiration for other would-be jihadists to head for Syria rather than as a deterrent, experts have warned.

The figures came as one academic said youngsters who flee Britain to fight jihad are just depressed and lonely and should be allowed to return without being criminalised.

And the Archbishop of Canterbury warned that the world’s leaders risk a “blind and pointless conflict” against Islamist extremism.

The Most Rev Justin Welby issued a stark warning that expanding military action in the Middle East could be seen in the region as like a renewal of the Crusades, boosting support for Jihadists.

Researchers at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at Kings College London, who closely monitor British jihadists on social media, are aware of 24 British deaths.

But senior research fellow Shiraz Maher said because of the difficulties in accessing information in Syria the true total is “almost certainly higher than that”. Security sources believe at least 20 have died.

Among them is 19-year-old Ibrahim Kamara, from Brighton, who died in a US air strike in Allepo last month along with three other unnamed Britons.

Kamara, whose combat name was Khalil al – Brittani, was thought to have been fighting for al – Nusra, an affiliate group of al – Qaeda, at the time.


In April Abdullah Deghayes, 18, was killed in battle. His father, Abubaker, described him as a martyr and revealed that two of his other sons, Amer, 20, and Jafar, 16, were also in Syria.

Last December, Ifthekar Jaman, 23, from Portsmouth, who had described his experiences as “five-star jihad” was killed.

His parents were among six people arrested on Tuesday in coordinated counter – terrorism police raids in Hampshire and London. They were later bailed by police.

Mr Maher said those killed are referred to my their jihadist friends as “green birds” in reference to passages in the Koran that talks about martyrs living in the hearts of green birds in paradise.

He said: “The increasing reports of deaths will not dissuade people from going because they regard it as martyrdom and a victory.

“It is the ultimate prize for these jihadists and those around them celebrate their death.”

Raffaello Pantucci, senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said: “The narrative for why people are going out there changes and evolves over time.


“If you are going out there to fight and are motivated by the idea of jihad then you are not going to be put off by the deaths, some might even be inspired by them.

“There will be very few of these people who are going out there who do not think that being killing is a possibility but they are young and have that sense of immortality and worry less about death.

“The emergence of Isil and the idea of creating an Islamic state and where there is much more of a focus on jihad will be a further encouragement for some.”

More than 500 Britons are believed to have travelled to Syria to fight, half of which may have already returned.

Police and the security services fear some may now be a threat to the UK and will use their experiences and training in Syria to plot attacks here.

Some potential attacks have already been foiled.

But Kamaldeep Bhui, Professor of Cultural Psychiatry and Epidemiology, at Queen Mary University of London, said radicalisation should be treated as a health issue in the same way as drugs or alcohol abuse.

He said those on the path to radicalisation were most likely to be educated and come from wealthy families, but felt bored with their lives and were socially isolated.

He added that girls were just as likely to start down to path to radicalisation as boys.

Writing in Prospect magazine, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby issued a stinging rebuke to Tony Blair and George W Bush, and condemned the rhetoric of “War on Terror” saying that it had itself fuelled further terrorism and said that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 had effectively “created”new networks of international terror.

The Archbishop, who supported the current air strikes because of the threat of genocide to Christians and other religious minorities, insisted that air strikes would not provide security for countries such as the UK.

He said there would be times when international military action is required but only on a limited and temporary basis.

He wrote: “We pick and choose areas that go in and out of fashion, corresponding with the latest news report – when did you last hear mention of the girls taken by Boko Haram on the news?

“Yet at the same time the actions we take are often perceived in the Islamic world as those of Christian countries, a renewal of the Crusades.”

In a withering assessment of the UK and US records in the Middle East, he added: “The second Iraq war showed us that by effectively creating new networks of international terror.”

The Archbishop also warned that Muslims and other religious leaders in western countries must “up their game” in combating extremist ideology