Gavin Mortimer

Better a dead fanatic in Syria than a live one in Britain

Better a dead fanatic in Syria than a live one in Britain
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Let us give thanks for the straight-talking Rory Stewart. After last week's alarming comments from Max Hill, a QC who appears to believe British Isis fighters just need some TLC, Stewart, a Foreign Office minister, has given a more incisive assessment of the approach that should be taken towards the British jihadists still at large in Syria and Iraq.

'They are absolutely dedicated, as members of the Islamic State, towards the creation of a caliphate,' the Conservative MP told the BBC's John Piennar. 'They believe in an extremely hateful doctrine which involves killing themselves, killing others and trying to use violence and brutality to create an eighth century, or seventh century, state. So I'm afraid we have to be serious about the fact these people are a serious danger to us, and unfortunately the only way of dealing with them will be, in almost every case, to kill them.'

Contrast those words with what Hill, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, told the BBC last week in explaining that British Isis fighters should not in most cases be prosecuted upon their return. 'It’s not a decision that MI5 and others will have taken lightly,' said Hill. 'They, I am sure, will have looked intensely at each individual on return. But they have left space, and I think they are right to do so, for those who travelled, but who travelled out of a sense of naivety, possibly with some brainwashing along the way, possibly in their mid-teens and who return in a sense of utter disillusionment.'

The only naivety comes from Hill, and MI5, if they believe Isis fighters are simply confused young men who now bitterly regret butchering their way across the Levant. In May 2016 a report in France revealed that the overwhelming majority of Jihadists travelled back to France with their convictions intact, perhaps the reason why a year later it was claimed the country was assisting Iraqi ground forces fighting Isis 'to target and exterminate French nationals.'

The British intelligence services have previous when it comes to seriously under-estimating the scale of the Islamists' fanaticism; in the mid-1990s scores of seasoned jihadists from across the globe set up camp in London while the authorities turned a blind eye. The French intelligence services dubbed the British capital 'Londonistan', and it took the Americans to finally bring an end to Abu Hamza's global terror network, organised from the Finsbury Park mosque. As assistant US attorney Edward Kim said of the man sentenced to life imprisonment in 2014: 'He used the cover of religion so he could hide in plain sight in London… He was a leader with a global following, who didn’t just talk the talk, he walked the walk.'

As for Hill, when he was appointed to his position at the start of the year, he was described as Britain's 'new terror watchdog' with Home Secretary Amber Rudd lauding his 'wealth of experience and legal expertise'. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Hill said that his most satisfying professional moment was successfully prosecuting the killers of Damilola Taylor, the 10-year-old schoolboy who was stabbed to death in London in 2000.

Hill's reputation as a 'top-league criminal silk' (his chambers’ description) does not necessarily mean he understands the ideology that drives the Islamists. Rory Stewart, on the other hand, served as the coalition Deputy-Governor of two provinces in Southern Iraq in 2003 before entering parliament and evidently has a far greater understanding of the threat posed by returning jihadists.

It's a threat that bears parallels with the zealotry encountered by the SAS when they spearheaded the Allied advance into Germany in April 1945. The Third Reich was in ruins but there remained pockets of isolated resistance, young men who weren't brainwashed but just believed in a cause they were ready to pursue to the bitter end. Initially the SAS tried to take prisoners but they quickly realised they were only putting themselves in danger. So they killed all the Nazis they encountered. The same approach is now required to protect the British people from fanatics who are better dead than alive.

Gavin Mortimer is the author of The History of the SAS in WW2