More Brits Signing Up to Fight with Jihadist Militants in Iraq and Syria Than for the UK Army Reserve
Tom McTague, Daily Mail (London), June 17, 2014
More British citizens signed up to fight in Iraq and Syria than joined the Army Reserve last year, it can be revealed.
Just 170 extra reservists enlisted over the past year–despite a Government target to boost the stand-by force by 11,000 by 2018.
But at the same time the brutal al-Qaeda inspired ISIS forces tearing through Iraq have been boosted by ‘several hundred’ Brits, ministers told MailOnline.
Terror experts believe there could be as many as 500 Brits fighting alongside the jihadists in the Middle East for ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria).
A senior government minister said: ‘There is a real problem about people going in and being radicalised and then coming home. There are several hundred who have gone from Britain that we know of. It is a worry.
‘To get to Iraq most of them will have to go through Syria, so the two are connected.’
Foreign Secretary William Hague yesterday admitted Brit will ‘inevitably’ be fighting alongside ISIS which he called the ‘most violent and brutal militant group in the Middle East’.
He said the majority of Isis’ members were Iraqi or Syrian but ‘it also includes a significant number of foreign fighters among its ranks’.
Mr Hague said: ‘As I have previously told this House, we estimate the number of UK-linked individuals fighting in Syria to include approximately 400 British nationals and other UK-linked individuals who could present a particular risk should they return to the UK.’ He said ‘some of these, inevitably’ are ‘fighting with’ Isis.
Shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker said he revelation was humiliating for the country and needed to be tackled.
Mr Coaker said: ‘The government’s own figures show more UK citizens are joining ISIS than signing up for the Armed Forces Reserves. This is shameful, embarrassing and will cause deep concern.
‘We need to see action to ensure recruitment to the Armed Forces meets the targets set. Otherwise, Britain will be left with a dangerous capability gap.’
In the whole of 2013 the number of British Army reservists actually fell by 50 to just 19,150 at the start of the year.
Over the 12 months to April this year–a period during in which the Government claimed recruitment had improved–the number of reservists in Britain increased by just 170.
The Army’s stalling recruitment drive comes despite a pledge to raise the numbers of reservists to 30,000 by 2018.
The Ministry of Defence has insisted it was confident the target would be met–as part of plans to slash the size of the regular Army from 102,000 in 2010 to 82,000 in 2018.
But this would require an extra 2,750 reservists a year to be recruited.
The MoD said: ‘Although there have been a number of technical challenges, the programme is on track and the Reserves are now growing in size for the first time in 18 years.’
Foreign Affairs Select Committee member Mike Gapes said it was ‘shocking and very worrying’ that more British citizens were prepared to risk their lives fighting alongside terrorists in the Middle East than had signed up for the Army Reserve.
He said: ‘There are clearly a pool of people who are being recruited by these extremist groups through the internet. It is very serious and we have got to be very tough on it.
‘These figures show there is a minority of people who are fanatical and prepared to join extremist groups, but also that the Government’s recruitment to the Army Reserves is not going very well at all.
‘There are large numbers living in this country going to fight for these vile terrorist organisations and that’s very worrying, particularly if they are returning to Britain having seen what they have seen and looking to recruit terrorists back here.’
The revelation comes after former Prime Minister Tony Blair said British fighters returning from Iraq and Syria were the Government’s single, biggest security concern.
Mr Blair said: ‘If we don’t deal with the Syria issue then the problems are not just going to be for Syria and for the region, the problems are actually going to come back and they are going to hit us very directly even in our own country.’
He added: ‘If you talk to security services in France and Germany and the UK, they will tell you their biggest single worry today returning jihadists fighters–our own citizens by the way–from Syria.’
Charlie Cooper, an expert at the anti-extremist think tank, Quilliam Foundation, said the number of Brits signing up to fight in the Middle East would only grow.
He said: ‘People are going from Britain and the EU to fight for ISIS–the estimate is more than 500 and that number will probably rise.
‘If you want to go and fight jihad, ISIS, which holds a particularly extreme view of Islam and wants to create an extreme Islamic utopia, is a very attractive group to fight for.’
David Cameron’s official spokesman has acknowledged fears British citizens could be among the ISIS fighters in Iraq, saying: ‘Our security services and all the relevant agencies will be monitoring those types of risks very closely.
‘Clearly there is a very porous border between parts of Syria and parts of Iraq.
‘As the Prime Minister has said, the greatest extremist activity and jihadist threats to the international community are in Syria. We need to keep these things under very close watch.’
Immigration and Security Minister James Brokenshire, meanwhile, has warned any Brits considering joining the battle abroad that they will face jail in Britain for any terror-related offences–even if they are carried out abroad.
He said: ‘The Serious Crime Bill would extend the reach of the Terrorism Act 2006 so that UK-linked individuals and those who seek to harm UK interests, who travel overseas to prepare or train more generally for terrorism, can be prosecuted as if their actions had taken place in the UK.’
A Foreign Office spokesman has previously added: ‘People who are thinking about travelling to Syria to engage in terrorist activity should be in no doubt that we will take the strongest possible action to protect our national security, including prosecuting those who break the law.’
Mail Online approached the Ministry of Defence about the revelations, but has not received any response.