Are London residents fighting in Syria?

Sheikh Abu Baseer Al-Tartousi has been photographed in Syria. But what does this London Islamist taking up arms tell us?

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Sheikh Abu Baseer Al-Tartousi
On 16 August 2012 13:00

A friend’s Facebook page links me to an image of a man standing outside an undisclosed town in Syria, rifle in hand.

He sports a long but tidy beard, his head pointed down, his balding precipice sweltering in the summer sun.

Just last year, Sheikh Abu Baseer Al-Tartousi was giving lectures in London. A link on the ‘Islam Policy’ blog hosts his full speech and ‘Q&A’. A translator acts as an intermediary for the Arab speaking ‘Sheikh’ and the audience.

A video on YouTube posted by TheMuslimZero shows ‘Shaykh Abu Baseer al-Tartousi in Jihad in Syria!’ though it does not make clear whether he is fighting alongside the Free Syrian Army, or with third party groups.

Tartousi appears across YouTube as a guest of the ‘Al Ansar Institute’, which has also recently hosted extreme preachers Murtaza Khan and Uthman Lateef, known for their appearances around the UK university circuit.

But this latest development takes the question of UK-based jihadists to another level. If a man who was as recently as May 2012, giving lectures in London, can hop over to Syria and fight within the ‘jihad’ as the YouTube video states, then how many others are either doing this, or are susceptible to Salafist seducation in the way of Tartousi – and who or what are they fighting for?

A blog post from January this year states that there was backlash against Tartousi for his criticism of a new Syrian group, “The Front for the Defense of the Syrian People” but just a few months later, Tartousi is shown in Syria, armed and ready to fight.

Another release from MEMRI declares, “Prominent Salafi-jihadi cleric Abu Basir Al-Tartousi, who in recent years resided in London, has joined the ranks of the mujahideen in Syria.”

Regardless as to whether Tartousi is fighting alongside the Free Syrian Army, or another group, his motives become clear when viewing this YouTube video, entitled, “Methodology of establishing an Islamic State". Tartousi has clear Islamist goals for Syria and his involvement in front groups in London should remind us that the nature of Islamist groups is both complex and extremely worrying.

Earlier this month the British government took the decision to not fund arms for Syrian rebels, a decision broadly based on the concern that Islamist groups would be on the receiving end of Western support. A notion which Tartousi’s presence in Syria helps to confirm.

Raheem Kassam is the Executive Editor of The Commentator. Follow him on Twitter @RaheemJKassam

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