UK Intel: Al Qaeda and Jihadists in Syria ‘Most Worrying Emerging Terrorist Threat’ to West

By Terence P. Jeffrey | September 3, 2013 | 2:17pm EDT

Sir Malcolm Rifikind, MP, serves as the chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee in the British Parliament. (AP Photo)

( - The British intelligence community has assessed that al Qaeda and other jihadists in Syria have become “the most worrying emerging terrorist threat to the UK and the West.”

This assessment was revealed in the annual report of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, which was released in July. The committee, chaired by Sir Malcolm Rifkind, has oversight over all British intelligence agencies as well as Britain’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC). The report covered the committee's work and conclusions from July 2012 through June 2013.

“The Agencies and JTAC assess that Al-Qaeda elements and individual jihadists in Syria currently represent the most worrying emerging terrorist threat to the UK and the West,” said the report in a section titled, "The Agencies' Assessment of the Threat."

“There is a risk of extremist elements in Syria taking advantage of the permissive environment to develop external attack plans, including against Western targets,” the report continued.

“Large numbers of radicalized individuals have been attracted to the country, including significant numbers from the UK and Europe,” the report said. “They are likely to acquire expertise and experience which could significantly increase the threat posed when they return home. Furthermore, there is growing concern about the risks around extremist groups in Syria gaining access to regime stocks of chemical weapons.”

British intelligence also assessed that Syria had “vast stockpiles” of chemical weapons and that the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) had stressed the possibility that these weapons might proliferate to terrorist in and outside Syria if the Assad regime fell.

“There is no doubt amongst the UK intelligence community that the Syrian regime possessed vast stockpiles of these deadly [chemical] weapons,” said the report.

The report added that “in June the US, UK and French governments said that they had high confidence that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale.” (This was before the August chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs).

“The security of these chemical weapons stocks is also of serious concern,” said this report of the Intelligence and Security Committee of the British Parliament. “The Chief of SIS noted the risk of ‘a highly worrying proliferation around the time of regime fall.’ There  has to significant risk that some of the country’s chemical weapons stockpile could fall into the hand of those with links to terrorism, in Syria or elsewhere in the region—is the happens, the consequences could be catastrophic.”

The report also noted the growing trend of extremists who lived in the UK travelling to Syria to join forces with the Islamist there.

“There is also an increasing potential for those who travel overseas to train and fight alongside one of the Al-Qaeda affiliate groups to subsequently return to the UK and pose a direct threat to the UK’s national security,” said the report. “We mentioned last year that there was a small contingent of UK citizens based in Somalia fighting alongside Al-Shabaab. UK residents continue to travel to Pakistan to train with Al-Qaeda Core. Most significant, however, is the growing trend for UK-resident extremists to join Islamist elements of the opposition in Syria, which is likely to form part of the terrorist threat picture for years to come.”

“ANF [the al-Nusrah Front] is an ‘offshoot’ of AQI based in Syria that [redacted] has access to significant numbers of foreign fighters, including UK nationals,” said the report.

The report said that the director general of the British Security Service (MI5) had testified that the Arab Spring has opened new opportunities for al Qaeda.

“I think 18 months ago or two years ago I would… probably have been slightly more positive about the overall trajectory [of the threat],” the report quotes the director of MI5 as saying. “The reason that I have a bit of caution about that is because of the impact of the so-called Arab Spring, so that Al-Qaeda, who were very much boxed into certain areas, particularly Pakistan, and suffering as a result of the American drones programme, they now have the ability to operate in parts of the Arab world where they have not been before, and that makes the picture more complex.”

Last Thursday, the British Parliament voted against using military force to penalize the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Asad for using chemical weapons against his own people.

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