MI6: 'Impossible' to track jihadists returning to UK

UK security services will have to prioritise who they track, says former M16 director Richard Barrett

Islamic Jihadists in training
(Image credit: SAID KHATIB/AFP/GettyImages)

Britain's security services cannot afford to track all of the people returning to the UK after fighting in Syria and Iraq, a former M16 director has warned.

Richard Barrett is due to release a new report that claims the Syrian war "is likely to be an incubator for a new generation of terrorists".

Following reports that there could be as many as 500 Britons fighting in Syria and Iraq, Barrett said those who represent a terror threat on their return would be a "very small" but unpredictable number.

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He estimated that "possibly up to 300 people have come back to the UK" already. "If you imagine what it would cost to really look at 300 people in depth, clearly it would be completely impossible to do that, probably impossible even at a third of that number," he told the Independent on Sunday.

Barrett described the radicalisation of young Britons as "perplexing", but suggested that one reason they were heading to Syria was a lack of a sense of identity in the UK.

He told the BBC News Channel that security services would have to choose which fighters they think will pose the greatest risk and, beyond that, rely "very much on members of the community and other people expressing their concern".

Yesterday, Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick, head of specialist operations including counter terrorism, warned that UK police would have to deal with the threat of British fighters returning from Syria for "many years to come".

Their comments come as further evidence of the British links with jihadists in Iraq emerged over the weekend, with confirmation that Nasser Muthana, a 20-year-old from Cardiff, was one of a number of Britons who featured in a film posted online to recruit fighters.

His father, Ahmed Muthana, 57, claimed he had no idea his son had gone to Syria and thought he had gone to Shrewsbury seven months ago. Nasser's 17-year-old brother Aseel is also in Syria.

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