British children born to Islamic State parents at risk of being raised as ‘career terrorists’ in Syria camps

·3-min read
A woman sits with her child on the ground at Camp Roj, where relatives of people suspected of belonging to the Islamic State (IS) group are held (AFP via Getty Images)
A woman sits with her child on the ground at Camp Roj, where relatives of people suspected of belonging to the Islamic State (IS) group are held (AFP via Getty Images)

British children held in camps in Syria after being born to Islamic Stateparents are in danger of being raised as “career terrorists”, the government’s terror watchdog warned on Thursday.

Jonathan Hall QC said there were “fierce difficulties” to confront about the youngsters’ plight as he highlighted the “bleakness of their futures” in his annual report to Parliament.

He said that as well as the risk of being “brought up as career terrorists” the children’s problems include the conditions in the camps in which they are being held and the dilemma about whether they could or should be separated from their mothers.

Mr Hall’s warning came in a wide-ranging assessment of the terrorist threat in which he also describes how the coronavirus pandemic “has been a boon for conspiracy theories”.

He says some of these have been feeding “pre-existing violent ideologies” and that there has also been a “dramatic increase” in online radicalisation.

Mr Hall also examines claims that the threat of Far Right terrorism “has been exaggerated in order to achieve a “politically-correct form of balance”.

But he concludes that although “there is no doubt that the Islamist terrorist threat is the main threat faced by Great Britain and .. continues to lead to the greatest number of terrorist deaths”, the charge is mistaken.

He says this is because although right wing plots have not had the same impact, “the possession, manufacture, discussion of weapons and explosives are often encountered in right wing terrorism investigations.”

He adds that this explains the “relatively high” number of late stage plots referred to in public by MI5 and counter-terror police and that they are “bound from a protective point of view to take such cases more seriously”, even if no fatalities ultimately result from them.

He lists seven Far Right plots that have led to prosecutions including the conviction of racist south Londoner Steven Bishop for having “amassed bomb-making materials” to target a mosque, and others in which weapons were either acquired, sought or being constructed.

Some of his striking comments remain, however, over the continuing dangers posed by the fallout from the participation of British Islamic State fighters and brides in Syria.

Mr Hall quotes government estimates that a quarter of the 900 Britons who went to fight have been killed, but that only 10 per cent of the 360 thought to returned have been prosecuted.

He says, however, that there is no official record of Syria-related prosecutions and that only ten have been identified involving the conduct of British terrorists in Syria, plus another four in which returnees were prosecuted on the basis of documents seized here.

He also highlights the fate of the unknown number of British children still stranded in the Kurdish camps in Syria, sometimes because their dual-national mother has been stripped of UK citizenship.

“The position of British children, taken there or born to British dual-national mothers before their deprivation [of citizenship], raises fierce difficulties,” Mr Hall states in his report.

“There is the condition of the camps in which they live, and bleakness of their futures, the desirability or feasibility of separating them from their mothers, and the risk that such children may be brought up as career terrorists.”

He makes no comments about what should happen to the children but his decision to raise their fate provides a public reminder of the controversy surrounding what should happen to them and their parents.

Ministers have said that they will allow the return of British children and a handful have already come back.

But in other cases, the removal of British nationality from the child’s parent, as well as the difficulty of extricating them from Syria, has resulted in others remaining stranded overseas in camps where IS ideology remains a potential influence on them.

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