Al-Qaeda has been using the influx of foreign nationals to Syria to train potential terrorists to begin cells abroad, specifically in the United Kingdom (UK) and European Union (EU), Britain's The Telegraph reported Monday.
A defector from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and Western security sources confirmed to the British news agency what UK and other intelligence officials have long suspected: that at least some foreign nationals who leave to fight in the Syrian civil war plan to use their experience and training there to attack their native countries upon their return.
The defector, speaking from the Turkish border - a route commonly taken by foreign Islamist fighters into Syria - said that Al Qaeda has been training recruits from Europe, the UK and the US how to make and detonate car bombs and suicide vests in anticipation of being sent home to start new terror cells.
“They talked often about terrorist attacks," the defector, who would only give the name of Murad, stated to the British daily. "The foreigners were proud of 9/11 and the London bombings. The British, French and American mujahideen [holy warriors] in the room started talking about places that they wanted to bomb or explode themselves in Europe and the United States. Everyone named a target. The American said he dreamed of blowing up the White House.”
In December, reports surfaced that the UK had revoked the citizenship of several nationals fighting in the Syrian Civil War. The goal, ostensibly, was to prevent its nationals from returning home and bringing fundamentalist Islam with them.
Syrian Foreign Minister Feisal Mekdad stated to BBC last week that Western officials have reached out to the Syrian regime over the jihadists, in light of the news that hundreds of foreign nationals were involved in terror there.
And earlier this month, a Lebanese TV channel exposed how British Islamists led by notorious preacher Anjem Choudary were actively recruiting Muslims to fight in Syria.
This report presents the first official confirmation from a Syrian rebel source that Western fighters are being trained to perpetuate terror abroad. The Telegraph estimates that at least 500 British citizens have joined the fighting in the war-torn country - and that the situation is only getting worse.
The Syrian Civil War has been the ground zero for an all-out holy war between Sunni and Shia Muslims, in the wake of an uprising by the Syrian people against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who identifies with the Alawite sect, which is an offshoot of Shia islam.
Foreign nationals have poured into Syria to fight on both sides of the conflict, raising concerns that the increasingly sectarian conflict could spill over into not only neighboring countries (as has already occurred in Lebanon and Iraq), but even further afield, as Islamist fighters from across the globe receive ideological instruction and battlefield experience which they could potentially take back home with them.
The foreign national problem is not a new one. Canadian, American, and European fighters have made jihad videos from Syria; British Muslims, in particular, have been flocking to the war from all sectors of society.
Al Qaeda officials have been suspected of reaching out specifically to British university graduates, according a Daily Mail report last month. Some British Muslim women have also been joining the rebel forces, marrying Islamists "in the name of a global Jihad".