Ex al-Qaeda member warns UK over Syria threat

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Media caption"You have to convince people there are other ways to help to alleviate the suffering of others without resorting to violence"

An ex-member of al-Qaeda has said the UK government must clearly explain why it has not intervened in Syria - or risk more Muslims becoming radicalised.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the government must explain why it does not want people to travel there and take part in the conflict.

The Home Office says progress has been made in preventing radicalisation.

UK authorities have voiced concern at the security threat posed by people who have trained and fought in Syria.

The Home Office said its Prevent Strategy, aiming to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorists, had made considerable headway.

The man, who does not want to be named, was born in Saudi Arabia and now lives in the UK.

He was active in the jihadist movement as a radical preacher for 12 years before disengaging from terrorist activities, saying he did not want to be part of an organisation that was killing civilians.

Crazy moments

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Media captionSir Malcolm Rifkind: It is "crucial" to work with Islamic leaders to combat extremism

He said the UK government must provide a counter-narrative to convince people why it should not intervene in the Syrian conflict.

"Sometimes the West and the Western governments are not good about putting forward their narrative or their counter-narrative explaining that it's not their fault that these conflicts are happening - and therefore trying to explain to their radical Muslim population it is not the West to blame, it is other forces to blame," he said.

"You have to convince people there are other ways to help to alleviate the suffering of others without resorting to violence and militancy and at the same time trying to educate people about the causes of these conflicts."

The man explained that he joined the jihad during the Bosnian conflict in 1994 as he felt the international community was not doing enough.

"It was one of those crazy moments in one's life where you take a decision and then you act upon it," he said.

A year later he travelled to Afghanistan where he joined an al-Qaeda training camp, before becoming a preacher to new recruits.

"I think my experience more or less entitles me to send a message of warning to everyone that this journey could begin with a noble motive and end in a tragedy," he said.

Militants with suspected links to al-Qaeda have been heading to war-torn Syria from many other countries since fighting broke out in 2011.

Bin Laden

The UK authorities are concerned that people travelling to Syria to join the conflict may be radicalised, militarised and urged by those whom they come into contact with in Syria to turn their attentions away from the Syrian regime and instead attack targets in the West.

Senior police officers have said Britons returning to the UK from Syria would be stopped at the border and face arrest. In January, 16 people were arrested on suspicion of terror offences compared with 24 in the whole of 2013.

The Home Office said it had taken down tens of thousands of pieces of illegal terrorist material from the internet and had stopped people from being drawn into terrorism by offering them support and advice.

The former al-Qaeda member said: "The government must spell out clearly to everyone through the media that while they respect and admire the motives of those who want to go there because they want to help others, they do not trust the motives of those who will host them there.

"They might come back changed people, and also with sinister motives."

He claims he was motivated to join al-Qaeda by anger towards the West.

He also spoke about living alongside Osama Bin Laden, who he said cooked for him when he was feeling unwell.

"He asked for two eggs and boiled them for me… he cut them himself," he said.

Community leaders

"So it was a human gesture because at the end of the day the man, despite his misguided ideology, was not himself a personal monster to those around him, otherwise he wouldn't have attracted many volunteers to stick by him and defend him and to follow him to whatever end."

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who chairs parliament's intelligence and security committee, said the government could do more to work with British Muslim leaders to fight extremism.

"I think what is crucial, and I know the government is trying to do this, is to work much more closely with the leaders of the Islamic communities, particularly the imams", the former Foreign Secretary said.

He added: "This is an issue of people with a perverted view of the Islamic faith and what the Koran is teaching them and the people who can most influence them are the people who are most qualified to do so."

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