Donald Trump handed Daesh* a “propaganda victory” that could boost the terrorist group’s efforts to recruit and radicalise people in the UK when he announced the withdrawal of US troops from Syria, Britain’s counter-terror police chief Neil Basu told The Independent.
“The radicalisation of vulnerable people, particularly lone actors and very suggestible, young, malleable or potentially mentally ill people, is still a great threat. You hand ISIS [Daesh] a propaganda victory if you say ‘we’re going to withdraw’, which they took as a sign they were able to say ‘we’ve won’. That can’t be good for us [in Britain]. I would hate for anybody to be complacent enough to think that threat has gone”, the Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner said.
Although Daesh’s propaganda machine has been “tremendously affected” by its losses on the battlefield, it is still able to inspire followers to carry out attacks, Basu said.
“A lot of it still remains out there and accessible. You still have encrypted groups where people can talk to each other”.
According to UK Home Office estimates, about 300 British Daesh recruits could still be alive in Syria and Iraq, while several are in the custody of the US-backed Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The British government desires to deprive all dual nationals who fought for Daesh of UK citizenship, although Basu said that there is no “legal pathway” to repatriate them for trial.
“We’ve only seen a trickle of people return – most of these people don’t want to come back here. I’m concerned that people will either get back without our knowledge, because that’s entirely possible, or that we will not have a case we can prosecute”.
Earlier this week, the British Parliament approved the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, which will make it illegal to enter “designated areas” abroad without a reasonable excuse – otherwise, it will be punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
In mid-December, US President Donald Trump declared victory over Daesh and announced a subsequent withdrawal of all American troops from Syria.
Nearly a month after the announcement, several US servicemen were killed in a suicide bombing in the northern Syrian city of Manbij, with Daesh claiming responsibility for the attack. Trump, however, stood by his earlier decision to go with the pull-out, although he didn’t provide the exact timetable for the troop departure.
*Daesh, also known as ISIS/ISIL/IS/Islamic State, is a terrorist group banned in Russia and many other countries.