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More than 400 former jihadi fighters back in Britain, say security …

UK authorities are facing an increased terror threat from battle-hardened fighters returning from Mosul and other conflict zones in Iraq and Syria. Security sources have told Sky News more than 400 former fighters are now believed to be back in Britain. The authorities believe there is a growing risk the UK could suffer the kind of mass gun and bomb attacks seen in France and Belgium recently, as many returning fighters will have been trained in the use of weapons and the construction of improvised explosive devices. It is a serious, two-pronged challenge for the police and security services, who are already working flat-out to counter the threat from homegrown lone-wolf extremists, like Khalid Masood, who launched last week’s deadly attack on Westminster.

:: The battle for Mosul: A timeline1

Former Scotland Yard Specialist Firearms Officer and author Tony Long said combating an attack launched by a well-trained returning jihadist could be a tough prospect. He said: “These are combat-hardened soldiers . They might not be trained in the way that NATO might train their soldiers but they’ve seen more close quarter conflict and more urban fighting than probably most members of the British Armed Forces and you have to respect that.

“Of course they’re bringing that knowledge back with them to the UK and it’s very very difficult because of the legal restrictions that are put on the security services and the police to actually monitor all of these people.”

To date, only a fraction of those returning from the battlefields of Syria and Iraq have been prosecuted, as authorities need enough evidence to put before the courts and often returning fighters go to great lengths to cover up their overseas activities. Imran Khawaja, 29, from west London, is currently serving 12 years in prison after he faked his own death in Syria in an attempt to sneak back into the UK undetected. Khawaja had joined a militant group with links to so-called Islamic State while overseas. He was pictured posing with the severed heads of Syrian soldiers during his six months in the country. He was arrested as he tried to re-enter the UK through the port of Dover and later admitted preparing for acts of terrorism, attending a camp, receiving training and possessing firearms.

Security sources said they could not be certain that Khawaja would have launched an attack back home, but the pattern of returning jihadists posing a major risk to national security is well established. More than a decade ago, groups of al Qaeda trained terrorists were responsible for mass carnage in Europe and the United States. Those who launched the devastating attack on the London transport system on 7 July 2005 had attended al Qaeda training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Some of the terrorists who launched a similar failed attack on London on 21 July 2005 had received weapons and explosives training, as had some of the plotters who planned to blow up airliners with liquid bombs in 2006. :: Traumatised children of Mosul2

Security expert Professor Tahir Abbas from the Royal United Services Institute said: “The police and security services are certainly preparing for all eventualities, because in Britain, we’ve had our lessons from the past. “These returning fighters pose a number of threats in relation to security here. “They’ve been through a lot of very traumatic conflict and engagement, often involved in street-to-street fighting.

“Now, having made their way back to Britain, they pose a particular threat because of their capacity – and perhaps they’ve been instructed to return, hold fire and wait for the go ahead to launch attacks.

“They are likely to be traumatised, but also extremely experienced and well trained individuals who pose a serious risk.” With the growing threat from returning fighters, emergency services have been increasing their training to respond to gun and bomb attacks. On March 19, more than 200 police officers carried out a training exercise on the River Thames, where police firearms teams boarded a boat in a training scenario involving dozens of hostages. The UK government has provided millions of pounds in extra funding to help Chief Constables across country to increase their firearms capability to respond to a terrorist attack.

References

  1. ^ :: The battle for Mosul: A timeline (news.sky.com)
  2. ^ :: Traumatised children of Mosul (news.sky.com)

Airport shooting reignites security debate before French election

PARIS Police questioned and then released relatives of a man shot dead at a Paris airport, as investigators sought clues on why he attacked an army patrol in an incident that has pushed security to the forefront of France’s election campaign.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said late on Saturday that the man, named as 39-year-old Ziyed Ben Belgacem, had shouted he was there to “die for Allah” when he tried to seize a gun from a woman air force member on patrol at Orly airport.

After throwing down a bag containing a can of petrol and putting an air pistol to the head of the soldier, he was shot three times by her colleagues.

More than 230 people have died in France in the past twoyears at the hands of attackers allied to the militant Islamist group Islamic State, making security a key issue in the two-round presidential election on April 23 and May 7.

Emmanuel Macron, the centrist frontrunner, told France 2 television on Sunday it was “essential” to maintain the current state of emergency, in force since November 2015 . He reiterated that he would strengthen military operations and intelligence against Islamist militants.

Conservative Francois Fillon said France was in a “situation of virtual civil war” and spoke out against the idea of lifting the state of emergency, as floated by the justice minister last week.

Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, running on an

anti-immigration, anti-European Union ticket, told a rally that the government was “overwhelmed, stunned, paralysed like a rabbit in the headlights.”

IN AND OUT OF PRISON

Belgacem, who had been in and out of prison for theft and drug offences according to judicial sources, was already on the authorities’ radar . They said he became a radicalised Muslim when he served a prison term several years ago for drug-trafficking.

He had been reporting regularly to police under the terms of a provisional release from custody, and did not have the right to leave the country.

Several hours before he was killed, Belgacem had shot and wounded a police officer with his air pistol when he was stopped for a routine traffic check north of Paris, officials said . He then fled the scene.

He later entered a bar where he was a regular customer in Vitry-sur-Seine on the other side of Paris, and opened fire with his air gun without hitting anyone . He also stole a car before arriving at the airport.

Belgacem’s father, who was initially detained by police but released late on Saturday, denied his son had been involved in terrorism.

“My son has never been a terrorist . He has never prayed: he drinks . And, under the influence of alcohol and cannabis, this is what happens,” the father, whose name was not given, told Europe 1 radio.

He said he had received a phone call from his son in which Belgacem referred to shooting the police officer, saying: “I ask your forgiveness . I screwed up with a policeman.”

An autopsy showed the presence of cannabis and cocaine in Belgacem’s body, as well as an alcohol blood level of 0.93 grams per litre, a judicial source said on Sunday.

The legal limit for alcohol while driving in France is 0.5 g/l.

An earlier search of Belgacem’s home had found several grams of cocaine, the prosecutor said.

Belgacem was born in Paris, according to the prosecutor . French media said his family was of Tunisian origin.

A brother and cousin of Belgacem were also questioned by police and then released on Sunday, the judicial source said.

(Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Sandra Maler)

Breaking: Paris’ Orly airport evacuated as ‘man shot dead by security forces after trying to grab soldier’s gun’

Paris’ Orly airport has been evacuated after a man was shot dead after he allegedly tried to grab a soldier’s firearm. A soldier fired at the man who was then detained by security forces, as police did a sweep of the airport in search of potential accomplices or explosives. The man was later pronounced dead, AFP and BFM TV reported.

Passengers wrote on Twitter that they had heard gunshots in the south terminal on Saturday morning and police were carrying out a security operation as they were told to flee. A police spokesman wrote on Twitter: “Ongoing police operation . Do not cross the security perimeter, follow the instructions.”

Passengers who were scheduled to catch flights later in the day were told not to come to the airport.

Emergency services outside Orly airport south of Paris Orly airport is located south of Paris

An airport official added: “Ongoing special operation by the Police . Please follow their instructions . Do not come to the airport.”

One passenger wrote on Twitter that shots had been fired in the south terminal.

France has been under a state of emergency following a series of deadly terror attacks across the country.

We’ll be bringing you the very latest updates, pictures and video on this breaking news story.

For the latest news and breaking news visit Mirror.co.uk/news1 . Get all the big headlines, pictures, analysis, opinion and video on the stories that matter to you. Follow us on Twitter @DailyMirror – the official Daily Mirror & Mirror Online Twitter account – real news in real time.

We’re also on Facebook/dailymirror – your must-see news, features, videos and pictures throughout the day from the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Mirror Online.

References

  1. ^ Mirror.co.uk/news (mirror.co.uk)