New report says no empirical evidence to support notion that UK nationals fighting in Syria are threat on return.
A new report by an UK-based campaign group claims that the British government has greatly exaggerated the threat posed to the country by foreign fighters taking part in the Syrian civil war.
British government policy is “confused and dangerous” and has “created a climate of fear,” says CAGE, which campaigns on behalf of the victims of “The War on Terror.” It accuses authorities of being “inconsistent” in how they treat those supporting rebels and foreign fighters in Libya and Syria.
The report – “Blowback – Foreign fighters and the threat they pose” – was launched Thursday night at an event held in East London. Over 400 people attended, listening to speakers including those who had been to Syria on humanitarian aid missions.
The study that led to the report looked at “terrorism plots” in the UK, and at how many of those involved in the plots had fought oversees.
Post 9/11 – the period during which the West’s “War on Terror” started – no one involved in a terrorism plot in the UK had spent time fighting abroad, it states.
Asim Qureshi, the director of Cage, told the Anadolu Agency that there is no empirical evidence to support the idea that British nationals fighting in Syria are a threat to the UK.
“You don’t need to go to Syria to learn how to blow things up. Anyone with access to the Internet can learn how to do that,” he added, quoting the Boston marathon bombings as a prime example.
Qureshi accused the government of double standards in the way it defines criminality.
“We are in a situation where if a British national joins the forces of [Syrian President] Bashar Assad, and fights in the civil war then he will not be considered as a domestic threat or an extremist, but if someone travels to Syria and fights alongside the rebels against the regime, then they will be criminalized.”
To compile its report, Cage carried out interviews with people it said had travelled abroad to take part in conflicts.
It concluded that none of the unnamed fighters possessed the intent to participate in political violence, and suggested there is “scant” evidence that any significant numbers have done so.
Prime Minister David Cameron and security chiefs have stated that foreign fighters returning from overseas pose a great threat to the UK, Cameron telling parliament in June that the government has stopped people from travelling – taking away their passports – in an effort to stop them being radicalized.
The prime minister has also said that the government intends to introduce legislation that doesn’t just make efforts to travel to take part in “terrorist attacks” illegal, it also wants to introduce legislation that criminalizes the planning of such attacks from the UK.
The report, however, underlines, that those traveling to Syria had no intention of attacking the UK on return.”
Those that were spoken with did not envisage any tensions between travelling to Syria to join the civil conflict, and legal and moral obligations to Britain,” it states. “However, due to the climate of fear that has been created, it appears that disproportionate measures have been incorporated to reduce the threat from foreign fighters.”
Cage has claimed that it has being targeted by the government because of its work, for speaking out against anti-terror laws and for investigating British complicity in torture overseas.
It says its bank accounts have been closed down, claims the charities commission has launched an investigation into two of its major donors, and says that one of its directors – Dr. Adnan Siddiqui – is facing an investigation by the NHS England’s counter fraud department.
“There are too many coincidences for this not to be politically motivated,” said Quereshi on Friday.
All of this took place after its outreach director, former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg, was arrested on suspicion of terrorism offences linked to Syria.
The launch of the report Thursday was in part an attempt to raise money for the running of the organization.
The British government has estimated that around 400 UK nationals are fighting with groups in Syria, although the prime minister has acknowledged the government has less information about those in Iraq.
Last month, the government revealed it had made 65 arrests linked to Syria, and seized 14 passports, Cameron warning of the “security threat” to Britain.