A British jihadi who went to Syria plotted to launch a major terrorist atrocity after returning to the UK, The Mail on Sunday can reveal today.
The Muslim fanatic is suspected of planning a murderous gun and bomb attack in London on the orders of a terrorist ‘mastermind’ he met while in the Middle East.
Security sources claim it could have been the most serious terrorist strike since the bombings in London on July 7, 2005, which killed 52 people and injured hundreds more. However, the plot was foiled and the man was detained at gunpoint in the capital.
Capital at risk: The unnamed man’s planned attack could have been the most serious terrorist strike since the bombings in London on July 7, 2005, sources say
The news comes as security at British airports is being stepped up amid claims that terrorists are intent on smuggling bombs that cannot be detected by scanners on to aircraft travelling between the UK and the United States.
The explosives, which have no metals parts, could be concealed in clothes, and the technology is already thought to have reached Britons fighting in Syria and Iraq.
A number of British jihadis have also posted chilling messages online promising to use their ‘terror skills’ if they make it back to Britain. Others say they will return only once the black flag of Islam is flying over Downing Street.
David Cameron has warned that British jihadis coming back to the UK after fighting in Syria and Iraq are ‘the most serious threat to Britain’s security there is today’.
Now The Mail on Sunday has learned at least one such plot has already been detected and foiled. A security source said: ‘This could have been the most serious case since 7/7 if we had not stopped it. It perfectly illustrates the fears we have had about Syria for some time.’
Tension: Security at British airports is being stepped up amid claims that terrorists are intent on smuggling bombs that cannot be detected by scanners
Investigators believe that after the suspect travelled from the UK to Syria, he met a shadowy Islamist mastermind with designs on attacking the West, who encouraged him to plan an atrocity.
Security Service officials suspect that he returned to London with substantial amounts of cash and set about using it to buy weapons and bomb-making equipment.
He remained in contact with his controller in Syria – a terrorist kingpin thought to have established links to other would-be terrorists in Britain and Europe.
The suspect joined up with another extremist, and security officials were sufficiently concerned by intelligence that they launched an emergency operation to arrest them in London at gunpoint.
Further details of the investigation cannot be disclosed at this time, but MI5 is understood to believe it stopped an important attack, illustrating the dangers posed by the anarchy in Syria and Iraq.
Although it has not been publicly acknowledged, The Mail on Sunday understands the Prime Minister was briefed on the plot by the security services before making his comments to the Commons last month.
Mr Cameron was responding to the recent fighting by the Al Qaeda-inspired terror group Isis, which is active in Syria and Iraq.
‘As well as trying to take territory, Isis is planning to attack in the UK,’ he said. Sir Peter Fahy, in charge of counter-terrorism strategy for the Association of Chief Police Officers, has said that 500 Britons have travelled to Syria and Iraq – a higher estimate than the 400 claimed by Foreign Secretary William Hague.
Security officials estimate that about two-thirds of those have already returned.
Conflict: Reyaad Khan, left, Nasser Muthana, centre, and Abdul Raqib Amin in the recruitment video for Isis
Last month three Britons appeared in an Isis video aiming to recruit more extremists to join the escalating bloodshed in Syria and Iraq. Those featured were Reyaad Khan, 20, medical student Nasser Muthana, 20, both from Cardiff, and Abdul Raqib Amin, from Aberdeen. Muthana’s brother Aseel, 17, is also in Syria, and has spoken of his willingness to die for his cause.
Experts have long feared the consequences of a ‘blowback’ attack when jihadis – radicalised and trained abroad – return to the UK to commit attacks.
Dozens of Britons are thought to have died fighting in a three-way civil war between radical Islamist groups such as Isis, the more moderate Free Syrian Army, and President Assad’s government forces.
An increasing number of young Britons have been arrested upon their return from Syria and accused of preparing acts of terrorism or receiving terrorist training. Experts say Syria has become a ‘cauldron that is drawing in foreign fighters at a unparalleled rate’. But today is the first time a direct threat to attack UK targets can be disclosed.
Raffaello Pantucci, of security think-tank the Royal United Services Institute, said: ‘Every other battlefield that has drawn British or other foreign fighters in like this has created a subsequent terrorist problem back home.
‘It was only a matter of time before we started to see plots coming back from Syria. The key question has been to what degree these have been directed from the battlefield by groups such as Isis.’
Britain is not the only country threatened by blowback attacks. Last month, Mehdi Nemmouche, 29, who returned from Syria to Belgium, was arrested, suspected of having killed three people in a shooting at Brussels’ Jewish Museum.
The Government is planning to introduce new measures to prosecute those who plan and train for terrorism abroad. Lord Carlile, the Government’s former counter- terrorism adviser, said revelations of the London plot made the case for the reintroduction of control orders more pressing.