Britain’s Secretary of State for Defence has warned that Daesh remains the “most significant threat” to the United Kingdom. The fight against the terror group has not yet ended, Ben Wallace told the House of Commons today.
The minister revealed that Britain is still in the process of stemming the threat from Daesh in Syria and Iraq. The Royal Air Force, he revealed, has conducted air strikes on 40 Daesh targets within the past 12 months. “These targets range from caves occupied by Daesh terrorists in remote areas of northern Iraq, to weapons caches, bunkers and training camps, and include the destruction of two Daesh strong points engaged in close combat with Iraqi security forces.”
The fight is “by no means done” and “the threat from Daesh, I’m afraid, remains” despite the group’s territorial defeat over the past few years when it was driven out from all major urban strongholds in the region.
Wallace stressed that although it holds no influential territory, Daesh’s “poisonous ideology continues to endure, [its] pernicious influence continues to spread.” He said that this is not likely to decrease either, as “Conflict, economic collapse and inequality is creating new opportunities that the group will continue to exploit, to grow and recruit.” This, he added, should concern us all.
“As long as Daesh is able to operate over there, it can hit our citizens over here.” Attacks within Britain against British citizens could continue. “Daesh remains the most significant terrorist threat to the United Kingdom and our interests.”
Although the RAF air strikes have had an impact on the group’s ability to operate, Wallace said that Iraq still requires help to suppress it. Britain, he explained, is providing training and mentors to the Iraqi armed forces.
The Defence Secretary’s statement comes as the terror group has been increasing its operations and attacks on the Syrian and Iraqi armed forces and the various opposition and militia groups in the region. Many others have also warned of a resurgence.
With regards to the foreign fighters who went to Syria in the early years of the civil war to join Daesh, of whom around 900 were British nationals, Wallace said that “approximately 20 per cent have been killed, 40 per cent have returned to the United Kingdom where they have been investigated and the majority assessed now to pose no risk or a low security risk, and some 40 per cent remain in the region, either at large or in facilities managed by the Syrian Democratic Forces or others.”
The estimated 360 Britons still in Syria are the subject of a repatriation debate. Many people argue that they would pose a significant threat to national security. Rights groups and the US, however, have called on Britain and other European governments to repatriate their nationals so that they can face trial in their home countries. According to Ben Wallace, though, while Britain is determined to ensure that those who joined Daesh will “pay for their crimes”, rather than be brought back to Britain they should face prosecution “in the region where the crimes were committed.”