Britain’s newest export: jihad. “The Poplar preacher leading an armed gang of jihadis in Syria,” by Duncan Gardham for the Telegraph, October 19 (thanks to 538):
An influential British-based preacher is leading an armed gang of more than a hundred Islamist fighters in Syria, it can be disclosed.
In a video posted on the internet in the last few days, Abu Basir al-Tartusi can be seen on a balcony surrounded by Kalashnikov waving rebels after apparently capturing a hilltop village in the war-torn country.
Security sources believe that dozens of British extremists, possibly as many as 50, have travelled to Syria to join the fighting and some may have been recruited by Basir.
This week a junior doctor of Bangladeshi origin from, East London was charged with kidnapping two photographers in Syria, where he was said to be part of a 15-strong group of Britons.
The security services are concerned that the brutal conflict in Syria could become a “new Afghanistan” drawing in young men who return to Britain radicalised and keen to continue a fight to spread Islam.
A source said the numbers were “small but increasing” and there were concerns about “who they meet and the knowledge they could gain.”
Basir, whose real name is Abdal Munem Mustafa Halima, was running classes at the al-Ansar Institute in Poplar, East London just months ago. He has his own website and his sermons are readily available on the internet.
The preacher has been based in Britain since fleeing the Assad regime following an uprising in the early 1980s.
He has been compared with fellow preacher Abu Qatada and was described by one academic as one of the “most influential and most prolific radical scholars in the world right now” and by another as one of the “primary Salafi [fundamentalist] opinion-makers guiding the jihadi movement.”
Usama Hasan of the Quilliam think-tank said: “Basir is a leading jihadi theologian on a level with Abu Qatada. Syria has become the number one destination for wannabe jihadis and no one knows who is recruiting them, but it could easily be Basir.”
Aaron Zelin, of the Washington Institute of Near East Policy, who monitors radical groups in Syria, said Basir had been described as the “emir” of one brigade but the name Ansar al-Sham appeared to be new.
Basir’s first video from Syria appeared in links from radical forums to the YouTube video-sharing site in May, labelled: “Shaykh Abu Baseer al-Tartousi In Jihad in Syria!”
It featured Basir sitting in a circle, clutching a stick and lecturing a group of his students, one of them holding a Kalashnikov.
Subsequent photographs and videos showed Tartusi brandishing his own Russian-made assault rifle and a video showed the death of his nephew in the fighting.
He now features in regular updates on his Arabic-language Facebook page labelled “The Islamic Opposition to the Regime in Syria,” the most recent posted on Friday….