Duncan Gardham, Daily Mail (London), November 30, 2013
A British man who was killed fighting alongside Al Qaeda-linked extremists in Syria funded his trip by mugging people in an affluent area of London, The Mail on Sunday has learned.
Choukri Ellekhlifi, 22, threatened victims with a Taser-style high-voltage stun gun and forced them to hand over valuables including designer watches and mobile phones.
He lived in London until a year ago when he skipped bail and travelled to Syria to join a group of Islamic extremists waging war on President Assad’s regime.
Now it has been revealed that he was one of three British men killed as their group attacked pro-government forces near the city of Aleppo on August 11.
The trio were part of a group of ten British jihadists who joined up with 20 other Britons to fight with the Al-Nusra Front, which is allied to Al Qaeda.
Ellekhlifi had joined the rebels under a pseudonym but his true identity became clear after police compared mugshots taken after his arrest for the street robberies with a photo of British fighters in Syria that emerged last week.
Another man pictured with him, Mohammed el-Araj, 23, from Ladbroke Grove, West London, was killed two weeks later during a firefight.
Months before his death, Ellekhlifi targeted wealthy individuals in Belgravia, Central London to raise funds for his journey to the Middle East, according to security sources.
Alongside two accomplices–Mohamed Elyasse Taleouine, 21, and Mohammed Ibrahim, 23, both from West London–Ellekhlifi committed eight robberies during a four-day crime spree last year.
‘Wearing masks, they would approach their victims on bicycles, threaten them with a stun gun and demand they hand over their possessions,’ a security source said.
The robberies were committed between 11.15pm and 12.30am.
Two of the gang’s victims needed hospital treatment after the gun was fired at them.
Scotland Yard launched an investigation into the robberies and in August this year officers executed search warrants at the homes of Ellekhlifi, Taleouine and Ibrahim, where they found much of the stolen property.
They failed to recover the stun gun but a photo labelled ‘Taser’ was found at Taleouine’s flat. The picture was of a powerful stun gun that can be bought on the internet from Malaysia for less than £40.
The three men were arrested and released on bail and it is thought that Ellekhlifi then fled Britain to join the Syrian rebels.
A fighter using the name ‘Abu Hujama al-Britani’ was recently pictured in Syria, clutching an AK-47 rifle. Now ‘Hujama’ has been identified as Ellekhlifi, who was of Moroccan origin and lived in Paddington.
MI5 estimates that up to 300 young Britons have travelled to fight in Syria. Fears are growing that they could pose a terrorist threat when they return home.
Ellekhlifi, though absent, was jailed for six years for conspiracy to rob and conspiracy to possess an offensive weapon at Woolwich Crown Court.
Taleouine was jailed for five years and Ibrahim was jailed for four years six months.
Elsewhere up to six people from Portsmouth have gone to Syria and are fighting along side al-Qaeda fighters.
One of them is thought to be just 19 and another, named by the Sunday Times as Muhammad Hamidur Rahman, 25, used to be a supervisor at Primark.