UK

Briton fighting with Kurds against Islamic State defends actions

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Media caption"If you think that it is in the public’s interest to prosecute me, then do your worst. I’ll have to take that when it comes," Harry told Quentin Sommerville

A Briton who fought against Islamic State forces in Syria has told the BBC he believes he can justify his actions if the police decide to question him.

Former currency trader Harry says he was not quizzed when arriving back in the UK after five months with the YPG, or Kurdish People's Protection Units.

He says he had been fighting for "democracy, freedom and the Kurds".

The Home Office has warned people that taking part in the conflict in Syria and Iraq could amount to an offence.

Interviewed by the BBC's Quentin Sommerville before his journey home, 28-year-old Harry was asked what he would tell the UK authorities if questioned.

"I'll be totally honest with them," he said.

"Whatever information they need I'll give it to them. But more than that I'll tell them why I came, what kind of person I am...

"And then I'll go along with the practicalities and say to them: 'Do you think I am a threat to the British people? Do you think that I'm a terrorist? If you think that it is in the public's interest to prosecute me, then do your worst. I'll have to take that when it comes. But I suppose being here was justified."

Harry, who is from Cambridge and also known under his Kurdish name of Macer Gifford, says he travelled to the conflict with a goal of "shining a light on what was going on".

"I'm not a professional soldier but... an extra pair of hands fighting against Islamic State is always going to be a good thing," he said.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The YPG has been making ground against Islamic State fighters

More than 200,000 people have been killed since the civil war in Syria began in 2011, with the militant group Islamic State taking advantage of the conflict to gain territory.

But Kurdish forces supported by an allied air campaign have recently made important gains in the north of the country and Harry says "a lot has been achieved" since he joined the YPG.

Harry described the feeling of taking the Islamic State's main camp for Rojava [Syrian Kurdistan] as "quite symbolic".

"I have to go home some time and it's a good time to draw a line," he told the BBC.

He added: "I have achieved a little something... It hasn't been a holiday, it hasn't been a gap year. It's been very stressful. I've seen friends die. I've been in some terrible combats. I can't tell you how tired I am."

On his arrival at Heathrow Airport, Harry added: "I went for humanitarian reasons. I don't think it was particularly controversial. The people we were up against in the Islamic State, well, they are barbaric. People will understand why I went out."

He was fighting in the YPG alongside other Westerners including another Briton, IT worker Jac Holmes, 22, from Bournemouth, who returned to the UK on Wednesday.

Mr Holmes - who spoke to Newshour from a YPG military training camp in Syria in February - was detained for three hours by officials at Heathrow Airport after landing on a flight from Cairo.

He said officials had removed his phone and other items before he was questioned.

Mr Holmes then left the airport accompanied by his mother and stepfather.

Image caption Harry spent five months with the YPG in Syria

The YPG has not been designated as a terrorist group by the UK government. But the Home Office's list of proscribed organisations does include two Kurdish groups.

The Home Office said each case is dealt with on an individual basis.

A spokesperson added: "The UK advises against all travel to Syria and parts of Iraq. Anyone who does travel to these areas, for whatever reason, is putting themselves in considerable danger.

"The best way to help the people of these countries is to donate to registered charities that have ongoing relief operations, not by taking part in a conflict overseas, which can be an offence under both criminal and terror laws."

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