A top expert on UK terror laws explains why Britons fighting in Syria face court action but those fighting in Israel do not.
Syrian troops in gunfight with rebel fighters
A jihadi fighter in Syria has told Sky News he has been training British teenagers as young as 16 to fight in the country’s war.
Britons fighting in Syria could be prosecuted upon their return home whether they are fighting for or against the Assad regime, a former independent reviewer of terrorism laws has said.
Lord Carlile told Sky News the UK should be proud of legislation which he said confronted terrorism “irrespective of who might be sponsoring it”.
It comes after a jihadi fighter in Syria told Sky News he has been training British teenagers to fight in the war, and after two Birmingham men who fought alongside Syrian rebels pleaded guilty to terrorism offences.
Lord Carlile, who was the government’s independent reviewer of anti-terror laws for nine years until 2011, said the coalition’s opposition to Syria’s President Bashar al Assad was not a factor in deciding whether individuals should be charged under the Terrorism Act.
“As long as the action falls within the definition of terrorism as set out by the Act, the legislation would apply to those fighting for or against Assad,” the Lib Dem peer said.
“It would be a matter for a jury and… whether they were deemed to have engaged in violence for a political cause would be crucial.
“If someone was going to commit acts on behalf of Assad that involved killing civilians, they could then be subject to action under the Terrorism Act.
“It shows that we have laws in place that confront terrorism wherever it occurs and irrespective of who might be sponsoring it.”
Some have pointed to the fact that Britons who enlist to join the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) under the Mahal programme are not subject to the same legislation when they return to the UK.
But Lord Carlile said the law did not prevent British nationals from fighting for regimes Britain is friendly with.
“The IDF are not a proscribed terrorist organisation and do not carry out acts of terrorism, and Israel is considered a friendly government by Britain,” he said.
“So for any Britons who go to join Mahal, it’s most unlikely that they would be committing any acts of terrorism.
“They could in theory commit a war crime, if their actions were deemed to have fallen into that category, but terrorism legislation would not be applicable.”
As part of his work reviewing anti-terror laws, Lord Carlile compared definitions of terrorism from across the world and said they were largely the same.
“The difference you will see around the world is in the application of this definition,” he said.
“If someone went abroad to be a freedom fighter then the public interest test may become a factor when the CPS decides whether or not to press charges.
“So for example, if the current legislation had been in place at the time, this may have been the case if a British citizen had chosen to go and fight for Mandela during the apartheid era.”
Others have likened Britons fighting in Syria to those who volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War, but Lord Carlile dismissed that comparison as “ludicrous”.