David Cameron: Syria terror threat 'more dangerous' than Afghanistan

Prime Minister claims security services are working hard to prevent a terror attack as jihadists return to the UK from Syria

The "incipient terrorist threat" from Syria is more dangerous to Britain than threats from Afghanistan or Pakistan, David Cameron has said as he warned of the risks posed by jihadists returning to the UK.

In some of his strongest remarks about the impact of the civil war in the "broken" state of Syria, the prime minister said that the police and security services in Britain were having to work hard to prevent a terror attack.

Cameron, who will discuss the fallout of the Syrian civil war with Barack Obama after the G7 summit in Brussels on Thursday, said: "We have got to deal with this incipient terrorist threat from Syria. It is now the biggest risk we face – bigger even than what has been happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan. [It] needs to take up more and more of the time of the police, the security services and the government, who have really got to focus on this issue in order that we prevent terrorist acts taking place here in the UK."

Fears about the threat posed by jihadist fighters have been raised after the arrest in France of Mehdi Nemmouche, who was held on suspicion of killing three people in an attack on the Jewish Museum in the Sablon area of Brussels last month. Nemmouche had been under surveillance by French counter-terrorism police after his return from Syria last year. It is estimated that more than 1,000 Europeans, including around 400 Britons, have joined jihadist groups in Syria.

The prime minister, who warned of continuing suffering in Syria amid a "stalemate" between president Bashar al-Assad and opposition forces, echoed a recent warning by officials of the threat posed by jihadist fighters who train in Syria. In April the Daily Telegraph quoted officials as saying that the al-Nusra Front, which has declared allegiance to al-Qaida, is becoming "an increasingly significant potential source of future threats to the UK and UK interests overseas".

Abdullah Deghayes, 18, from Brighton, died in Syria after travelling to the country against the wishes of his father who only discovered on Facebook that his child had been killed.

Speaking during a question and answer session in Newark, ahead of the byelection on Thursday, the prime minister said: "I think the most pressing and most worrying [thing we have to do] is that because Syria has become a broken state, because it has become such an unsafe part of our world - there are now terrorist training camps in Syria that are training up Jihadist terrorists who could come back here to Britain to do us harm, as terrorists who trained in Afghanistan before.

"So we have got to work really hard with our international partners, and people like the United States to do everything we can to track these people, to arrest these people if they try to come back into Britain, to disrupt their networks, to find all we can about them and keep the country safe. This week I will be meeting president Obama in Brussels for the G7 meeting and that is a big part of our conversation."

The prime minister faced one of the greatest setbacks last year when MPs declined to vote for his plan to join forces with the US to launch limited military strikes on the Assad regime after a chemical weapons attack. Cameron made clear that the failure to act has worsened and prolonged the civil war when he spoke of how "extraordinarily difficult" it is to intervene in Syria.

The prime minister said: "It is a really desperately bloody conflict taking place and it is I think still quite a stalemate between President Assad and the Syrian opposition … If you want to have a picture of how bad the situation is something like a million people have moved from Syria to Lebanon next door."

Cameron said that Britain would continue to offer support to the non-jihadist opposition to Assad. He said: "We should recognise that there is legitimate democratic opposition to Bashar al-Assad who has done such terrible things to his people, he has used chemical weapons, he has burnt and bombed people out of their houses and we should be backing the legitimate democratic opposition not with weapons but with support, advice to try to help them get both sides to the negotiating table."


Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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