The British state’s curious relationship with radical Islam appears to have gone full circle. I’ve just found a picture on an internet forum affiliated with al-Qaeda showing Abu Baseer al-Tartusi carrying a rifle in Syria.
Al-Tartusi is a little known cleric who was granted political asylum in London and who gave Islamic lectures in Tower Hamlets until relatively recently. Now he is in Syria, leading a group of jihadists in the war against Bashar al-Assad.
A pair of British and Dutch journalists were recently kidnapped and then released by jihadists operating near Idlib. Although blindfolded throughout their detention, they reported that some of their captors had British accents. It was the first indication that British jihadists might be fighting in the conflict. The picture of al-Tartusi now provides the first confirmation that British residents – if not citizens – are actively taking part in the Syrian uprising.
This wouldn’t be the first case of an Islamist who found sanctuary in Britain returning to the Middle East to fight for his cause in the Arab Spring. After Mubarak was deposed, the Muslim Brotherhood’s former spokesman for Europe, Kemal Helbawi quit London for Egypt. And after the Tunisian revolution, Rashid Ghannouchi, who spent twenty-two years in exile returned to lead the Islamist Ennahda Party. It is currently the largest party in the Tunisian parliament.
Security officials in Westminster had long believed that offering these radicals sanctuary in London would pacify them. That has not been the case. The Arab Spring has revealed London as an incubator of reactionary robes who are now exploiting unrest in the Middle East to advance their cause.
All this evokes memories of a lecture the former head of counter-terrorism at Scotland Yard, Peter Clarke, gave to Policy Exchange in 2007. He noted that, at times, Britain’s ‘Londonistan’ approach to radical Islam meant we had become ‘a net exporter of terrorism’. He was more right than he could have known.