Jihadists who fled UK to join Isis would rather fight to the death than return to Britain

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No more than “10 to 20” Britons who are fighting abroad for Islamic State are expected to try to return to this country because most want to die overseas, security sources say. 

Counter-terrorism officials estimate there are about 100 IS fighters from Britain taking part in the Syrian conflict who would pose a serious threat to national security if they come back.

But it is now thought that only a handful are likely to attempt to return because most are such hardened extremists they would prefer to fight to the death in Syria or Iraq. 

Sources say they are also confident they have identified virtually every one of the 850 or so Britons who have taken part in the Syria conflict, and have sufficient evidence to bring charges against most of those who are yet to return. 

The disclosures reflect how the threat posed by returnees appears to have diminished, to be replaced by the growing menace of “stay-at-home jihadis” who are incited by IS to carry out attacks in Britain.

About 850 Britons are said to have travelled to fight in Syria (Reuters)

Asked how many Britons were now likely to come back from Syria, a senior official said “not many” and that the total was likely to be “10  to 20” at most. The source said intelligence information and biometric data — often held because of previous criminal activity in this country — would help identify any who did try to sneak back in.

About half of the 850 who went to Syria have returned. Dozens were killed including Jamal al-Harith, a Muslim convert born Ronald Fiddler, who carried out a suicide truck bombing south of Mosul in Iraq.

Former Cardiff schoolboy Reyaad Khan and fellow Briton Ruhul Amin died in a drone strike in Syria. Mohammed Emwazi, known as Jihadi John, was killed in a drone strike in Raqqa. Some returnees have been prosecuted but others, who travelled in the early phases of the fighting, are no longer regarded as a potential threat.

However, there is increasing concern about the danger posed by freed terrorist convicts in the UK, and the relatively short sentences currently handed out for “propaganda” offences such as disseminating terrorist material, encouraging terrorism, “possessing information for terrorist purposes” and “collecting information … to provide practical assistance” to a terrorist.

Counter-terror officials are worried the jail terms  in such cases are too short — less than the maximum for burglary. They also point out that suspects can often be freed on bail while awaiting trial because the law fails to reflect the gravity of such offences. The hope is that Parliament will increase maximum sentences for “propaganda” crimes.

The risk posed by freed convicts was  highlighted this month by the jailing at the Old Bailey of Naweed Ali, 29, Khobaib Hussain, 25, and Mohibur Rahman, 33, for planning a “mass casualty attack”. The trio had previously served jail terms for terrorist offences here.

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