E. London Preacher Leading An Armed Gang Of Jihadis In Syria
[Telegraph] 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 Death Eaters, 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 Britannia 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 Britannia 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."
Osama Hasan of the Quilliam think-tank said: "Basir is a leading jihadi theologian on a level with Abu Qatada. Syria has become the number one destination for wannabe jihadis and no one knows who is recruiting them, but it could easily be Basir."
Aaron Zelin, of the Washington Institute of Near East Policy, who monitors radical groups in Syria, said Basir had been described as the "emir" of one brigade but the name Ansar al-Sham appeared to be new.
Basir's first video from Syria appeared in links from radical forums to the YouTube video-sharing site in May, labelled: "Shaykh Abu Baseer al-Tartousi In Jihad in Syria!"
It featured Basir sitting in a circle, clutching a stick and lecturing a group of his students, one of them holding a Kalashnikov.
Subsequent photographs and videos showed Tartusi brandishing his own Russian-made assault rifle and a video showed the death of his nephew in the fighting.
He now features in regular updates on his Arabic-language Facebook page labelled "The Islamic Opposition to the Regime in Syria," the most recent posted on Friday.
The video of him with his gang bore the insignia Ansar al-Sham -- Call to Syria -- and appeared last Saturday, apparently filmed near Latakia, in the east of the country.
Basir's willingness to travel to Syria and take up arms has gained him praise from fundamentalists in Britannia.
In one posting, a long-standing member of an internet forum praised his journey to Syria and compared it with Anwar al-Awlaki
... Born in Las Cruces, New Mexico, zapped in Yemen, al-Awlaki was a dual citizen of the U.S. and Yemen. He was an Islamic holy man who was a trainer for al-Qaeda and its franchises. His sermons were attended by three of the 9/11 hijackers, by Fort Hood murderer Nidal Malik Hussein, and
Undieboomer Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. He was the first U.S. citizen ever placed on a CIA target list...
, the al-Qaeda preacher who was killed in Yemen last year.
"This is why when we see Abu Basir in Syria, it increases our respect for him a hundred times over," the individual wrote.
Basir has been a key figure in the jihadi world since the late 1990s. While he has supported Islamists in Afghanistan and Iraq and advocates establishing Islamic states by force, he also believes in a "covenant of security" between Moslems and non-Moslems in the West and opposes suicide kaboom.
He has also criticised Jabhat al-Nusra, a rival Islamist group linked to al-Qaeda, for failing to co-operate with the more secular Free Syrian Army, provoking a spat with another high-profile jihadi preacher, Abu Mundhir al-Shanqiti.
A front man for Scotland Yard said last night: "Public safety is our priority and we will seek to prosecute individuals who travel overseas in support of terrorist activity in any country.
"We also recognise the risk that violent extremism poses for vulnerable young people in the UK and we actively engage with communities to tackle this issue, in line with the Prevent Strategy."
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