Former UK ambassador to Yemen warns of more ISIS jailbreak attempts

Edmund Fitton-Brown urges inquiry into Al Qaeda cells in UK that are financing fighters in Afghanistan

Security experts says ISIS still poses a threat to Europe. AP
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Former British ambassador to Yemen Edmund Fitton-Brown has said that ISIS could make more jailbreak attempts in Syria and that the country's detention camps are a "ticking time bomb".

In a webinar focused on the terror threat to Europe, hosted by the Counter Extremism Project think tank, Mr Fitton-Brown revealed the risk presently posed by ISIS.

Following the group's attack on Syria's Al Sina prison, which lasted nine days and allowed for several terrorist fighters to escape, Mr Fitton-Brown said that this could happen again.

“The ISIS jail break gave it a significant propaganda boost and more jailbreak attempts should be expected, particularly in north-east Syria, and it is a jarring reminder of the precariousness of the holding arrangements in Syria,” he said.

He also raised concerns surrounding the detention of foreign terrorist fighters in camps and said international efforts to deal with the situation were “insufficient”, describing the situation as a “ticking time bomb”.

“ISIS and Al Qaeda might be weakened by a succession of leadership losses but member states still worry they will continue to exploit instability in Syria and Afghanistan,” Mr Fitton-Brown said.

“International efforts to address internally displaced camps and detention facilities in north-east Syria are still insufficient to address the seriousness of the issue.

“Besides the humanitarian issue, this is a ticking time bomb in security terms. There is a risk of thousands not having any chance of rehabilitation and creating a multiplying threat that will still be with us in 20 years.”

He also called for an investigation into British Al Qaeda cells financing fighters in Afghanistan.

“Al Shabab in Somalia is a financial hub for Al Qaeda and sends funds to Afghanistan via Yemen and there are cells in the UK,” he said.

“It is a matter that needs to be studied further. This is evolving information.”

Former European Union intelligence adviser Gerhard Conrad added during the event that terror attacks on tourists will increase and that the EU is working hard to protect its citizens.

“The external situation surrounding Europe is far more unsettled then the present situation in Europe itself,” he said.

“It’s not really good news. If we look at the situation in Afghanistan and North Africa, we have large, ungoverned spaces where they can really organise themselves.

“They are creating safe havens for themselves and for single, smaller, sub groups of terrorists that are not interested in fighting local or regional wars but are preparing themselves to fight against non-Muslims.”

He recalled how, in the early 2000s, attacks on hotels hosting tourists as well as sites in the West took place, and said “we should not overlook that risk, which is going to increase”.

“The EU is obliged to care for citizens abroad and are looking hard to understand it and prevent it in the countries concerned,” he said.

Security adviser Guido Steinberg said that ISIS-Khorasan Province is going to become the “biggest” threat in the years to come.

“ISIS-K in Mali and the neighbouring states have the potential to get into a leading position on the scene in the coming years,” he said.

“ISIS-K are looking to pose a great threat in the short to medium term in Afghanistan.

“It is influencing the Taliban to take a tougher line. It does not have external capabilities right now but has international ambitions. It is only due to the problem of reaching Afghanistan that is keeping international recruits from the West and Middle East from joining it.”

He added that the group could become the leading extremist organisation in the coming years.

“[ISIS-K] is trying to strengthen its numbers by recruiting members from other terrorist groups and attract disaffected terrorist fighters and disassociated local ethnic minorities,” he added.

“They are paid higher than the Taliban and this has created competition.”

Updated: September 23, 2022, 3:52 PM