UK Politics

Syria: BNP leader Griffin says opposition dominated by 'jihadi terrorists'

Opposition groups preparing to launch mortar rounds on the outskirts of Damascus
Image caption More than 80,000 people have been killed in the two-year conflict

BNP leader Nick Griffin has said the Syrian opposition movement is dominated by Islamist jihadis committing terrorist acts.

The MEP, who is on a visit to Damascus, said the conflict risked turning Syria from a "stable secular state into an Iraq-style hell of sectarian hate".

Any attempt by the UK to arm opposition forces would be madness, he said.

A BNP spokesman said Mr Griffin was not endorsing President Assad but speaking up for those opposing UK intervention.

Mr Griffin had been invited by the Syrian government as part of a delegation of MEPs and MPs - including representatives from Belgium, Russia and Poland - and was not being paid by the authorities, the party added.

'Fact-finding'

The UK government has said President Bashar al-Assad must give up power to bring an end to the violence that has seen 80,000 killed in the past two years, and pave the way for a political transition.

Foreign Secretary William Hague will discuss the situation with his US counterpart, John Kerry, in Washington on Wednesday.

Announcing his visit on Twitter, Mr Griffin said he was on a "fact-finding mission" and had crossed into Syria from Lebanon.

He said he had witnessed the aftermath of an opposition suicide bomb in Damascus, describing it as "vile" and a terrorist act.

"[Prime Minister David] Cameron & Hague plan to send UK money & weapons to rebels dominated by Islamist jihadis," he wrote.

"Why turn stable secular state into Iraq-style hell of sectarian hate? More madness from the people who dragged us to costly war in Iraq & Afghan[istan]."

'Proper view'

The anti-immigration BNP said Mr Griffin was seeking to give people "a proper view" of events in Syria.

"He wants to ascertain just how many British citizens are fighting out there for the so-called Free Syrian Army and other elements opposed to Assad," said a party spokesman.

"He is representing the point of view of ordinary British people who don't want any engagement in the Middle East and its troubles, any more than they wanted to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq."

The UK has said its focus remains on securing a negotiated settlement but current international policy is failing and lifting the arms embargo was necessary to keep up the pressure on the Assad government.

It says the UK will only send weapons to opposition forces in concert with its allies and with strict controls in place, but many MPs have warned it will only escalate the conflict.

The BBC's deputy political editor James Landale said discussions over arming the opposition were "coming to a head", with both the UK and US governments conscious that the situation was rapidly deteriorating.

The US has said it has seen evidence of chemical weapons being used in Syria.

Human Rights Watch has accused the Syrian government of carrying out indiscriminate attacks on civilians and torturing prisoners but said there was also evidence opposition groups have been responsible for abuses.

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