By Mark Ellis
A British Member of Parliament has made a startling claim: Now there are more than twice as many British Muslims fighting for ISIS than there are serving in the British armed forces, according to a report in Newsweek.
Khalid Mahmood, an MP in Birmingham, estimated there are at least 1,500 young British Muslims who have found their way into the ranks of extremists fighting in Iraq and Syria during the last three years.
“If you look across the whole of the country, and the various communities involved, 500 going over each year would be a conservative estimate,” Mahmood told Newsweek.
There are only about 600 British Muslims currently serving in the Armed Forces, making up approximately 0.4% of total personnel, according to the Ministry of Defense.
Slightly over four percent of the British population is Muslim.
The UK Foreign Office said they believe 400 individuals have travelled to Syria since the uprising began, but said that they could not give exact numbers, according to Newsweek.
Mahmood dismissed the lower estimate from the Defense Ministry as “nonsense” and said the government was failing to deal with the problem of homegrown extremists. “We’ve not concentrated on the prevention work, we haven’t invested enough in de-radicalization. It’s tragic, somebody’s got to wake up to it.”
Various estimates suggest there are dozens to as many as 300 Americans fighting for ISIS.
On August 26, news broke that Douglas McAuthur McCain, a 33-year-old man raised in Minnesota, died fighting for ISIS. On August 27th, a group of Syrian opposition forces announced they had killed another American in battle.
The role of British and American jihadists fighting in the Middle East has been brought into sharp focus after ISIS released a video showing the beheading of US journalist James Foley by a masked jihadist who spoke with a British accent.
In June, three terrorists involved in an ISIS propaganda video were identified as British students Reyaad Khan, 20, Nasser Muthana, 20, and his younger brother Aseel, 17.
Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi reported a Kurdish leader told him that an ISIS fighter had been carrying a Liverpool FC season ticket and a gym card from Ealing in London. He estimated the number of Britons fighting for Islamic State at as many as 700, according to Newsweek.
Ghaffar Hussain, with the Quilliam Foundation, argued that the number of British Muslims being drawn to ISIS and other organizations proved the UK was losing its battle against radical extremism.
“There are an unacceptable number of Britons fighting for jihadist forces over the world,” Hussain told Newsweek.
“There are things the government can do to prevent this of course,” Hussain said. “There needs to be a greater effort in the way of civil society initiatives that discredit jihadist organizations in the UK and promote liberal democratic values.”
ISIS militants’ recruiting campaign has surpassed Al-Qaeda in its effectiveness online, targeting primarily young Muslims, the Quilliam Foundation told Newsweek.
“Their use of the internet is unlike anything we have seen before,” Charlie Cooper of the Quilliam Foundation said.
“Social media applications like Facebook and Twitter act as a facilitator to connect young radicalized Britons with jihadists in Syria and Iraq.”
UK-based radical Islamic preacher Anjem Choudary who is a vocal supporter of establishing a Caliphate under Islamic Sharia Law told digital radio station Fubar Radio that “it’s not important if it’s a British person carrying out the execution because you’re Muslim first and British second.”
A British government spokesperson told Newsweek the British government is aware of the threat of ISIS recruitment and insisted “the police and security services are actively working to detect and disrupt terrorist threats. People seeking to travel to engage in terrorist activity in Syria or Iraq should be in no doubt we will take the strongest possible action to protect our national security, including prosecuting those who break the law.