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British Bombings in Syria

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With the Syrian conflict still ongoing, Features Columnist Thea Osborne looks at the implications of the first British suicide bomber in Syria.

On 6 February 2014, a British man, Abdul Waheed Majid, is believed to have carried out a suicide bombing against a jail in Aleppo. He had been in Syria for a few weeks having left his home in Crawley, West Sussex in order to go and carry out ‘humanitarian work’ in Syria.

Aleppo, Syria Image credits: guido camici
Aleppo, Syria
Image credits: guido camici

Such direct involvement of a British citizen in not just the Syrian conflict, but in the work carried out by violent, extremist jihadist groups (in this case it is still unclear as to whether ISIS or Jahbat Al-Nusra were responsible) has caused increasing concern amongst British security forces about the impact of the ongoing Syrian civil war on British security. Despite the numerous bombings that have taken place in the last three years and over 100,000 deaths, such clear action of a British citizen brings the conflict a little uncomfortably close to home for British security services.

41-year-old Majid worked for the Highways Agency and had previous links to UK terrorists who were jailed in 2007. He also studied under the radical preacher Omar Bakri Muhammad. Neighbours in Crawley, however, seemed shocked by the news and describe Majid as a normal guy loved by his friends and family. The key question for the UK security services must be why it is that someone with a home, family and employment in the United Kingdom would choose to travel to Syria in order to kill themselves in the name of jihad.

There are thought to be a few hundred British nationals currently fighting in Syria, which is the number one destination for jihadist fighters at the moment. In the long run the danger is of radicalised foreign fighters returning to their homes and wishing to carry out attacks. James Brokenshire, the recently appointed Immigration Minister, told the BBC that the hundreds of Britons who have taken up arms in the conflict is a growing concern and that the potential threat from Syria will last for years to come. He has urged people to donate and is opposed to travel there for humanitarian purposes due to the danger of getting caught up in the jihadi networks on the ground and has said that restrictions should be placed on people travelling to Syria.

A video was realised by Jahbat Al-Nusra in which Majid is shown standing, surrounded by armed Islamist fighters, next to the armoured truck which he later drove into the Aleppo prison. Within the video he says that he does not have a final message as he is “not a very good speaker” and the message “should come from the heart”. The father of three enabled about 300 jailed extremist fighters to escape in his final act and has been hailed as a hero on jihadi websites.

His legacy, though, is also one of fear, upset and confusion. His family and neighbours, who thought his travel was for ‘humanitarian purposes’ have been left feeling embarrassed, betrayed and shell shocked. The British security force are scrambling for answers while the western international community as a whole is made to confront the reality that the brutal and disastrous Syrian civil war can no longer be considered as simply a national or even regional conflict; as it continues the wider implications are increasingly impossible to predict for potential radicalisation and international security.

Thea Osborne, Online Features Columnist

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