On the morning of 12 November an alleged jihadist was arrested as he arrived back into the UK from Bahrain. The 24-year-old is believed to have previously travelled to Syria, where he was involved in jihadist operations including holding Western journalists captive. The arrested man is being linked to trainee NHS Doctor Shajul Islam, who was also arrested at Heathrow last month as he returned from Egypt with his family. Islam is accused of being the medic for the same jihadist group, and is due to face trial next April.
Although the incidents do not directly link to plots in the UK, they re-emphasise the dangers of people travelling to new emerging “theatres of jihad” to gain training and experience, which increases the overall threat level here. This remains a particular concern in Syria (and Northern Iraq), Libya, Mali, Mauritania and Somalia as discussed in our last report. Bahrain, Egypt, Kenya, Jordan and Turkey seem to remain significant travel points for would-be jihadists heading to and from these operational theatres, with networks in Bahrain also believed to be facilitating travel for those wanting to fight in Afghanistan. On this occasion the involvement with kidnapping Westerners is likely to have facilitated the identification of the jihadist, as was the case with Shajul Islam, but it remains possible that others are travelling undetected. We continue to assess that al-Qaeda has a particular focus on getting experienced jihadists to travel to Syria and support operations there, and this remains a major concern as Western nations steadily edge closer to openly and directly supporting the rebels, with France currently leading the charge in this regard.