An influential British-based preacher is leading an armed gang of more than a hundred Islamist fighters in Syria, it can be disclosed. In a video posted on the internet in the last few days, Abu Basir al-Tartusi can be seen on a balcony surrounded by Kalashnikov waving rebels after apparently capturing a hilltop village in the war-torn country.
Security sources believe that dozens of British extremists, possibly as many as 50, have travelled to Syria to join the fighting and some may have been recruited by Basir. This week a junior doctor of Bangladeshi origin from, East London was charged with kidnapping two photographers in Syria, where he was said to be part of a 15-strong group of Britons.
The security services are concerned that the brutal conflict in Syria could become a “new Afghanistan” drawing in young men who return to Britain radicalised and keen to continue a fight to spread Islam.A source said the numbers were “small but increasing” and there were concerns about “who they meet and the knowledge they could gain.”
Basir, whose real name is Abdal Munem Mustafa Halima, was running classes at the al-Ansar Institute in Poplar, East London just months ago. He has his own website and his sermons are readily available on the internet. The preacher has been based in Britain since fleeing the Assad regime following an uprising in the early 1980s.
He has been compared with fellow preacher Abu Qatada and was described by one academic as one of the “most influential and most prolific radical scholars in the world right now” and by another as one of the “primary Salafi [fundamentalist] opinion-makers guiding the jihadi movement…”