A video has surfaced of a man firing a weapon into a captive with his hands bound, violating the Geneva Convention and stoking fears that radicalised Britons could pose a threat at home
A British citizen fighting in Syria is believed to have committed a war crime by taking part in the execution of a prisoner.
A video that has been made public shows a rebel fighter, thought to be from London, firing a weapon repeatedly into a man who has his hands bound. A note that accompanies the video – which was uploaded to the photo and video sharing service Instagram – says the victim is “one of Bashar’s dogs”, a reference to supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It adds that the man admitted to killing four people and raping a woman.
The chilling footage is likely to reinforce the fears of UK security services that British citizens fighting in Syria pose a serious threat if they ever return, due to the likelihood that they will have been radicalised by the war.
The clip was uploaded by an account linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) –the most extremist rebel group in Syria. It is thought the incident took place within the last two weeks near the Isis stronghold of Raqqa, in northern Syria. After a fellow rebel shoots the prisoner in the head, the man believed to be the British citizen fires several shots into the prisoner’s body. The murder or ill treatment of prisoners is considered a violation of the Geneva Convention, which defines war crimes.
Researchers at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), which monitors the activity of British fighters in Syria, identified the gunman as the same person who appeared in previous videos calling on fellow British Muslims to join the fight in Syria. The man goes by the name “Abu Abdullah” and speaks with a thick London accent.
“We don’t know if the prisoner was alive or dead when he fired, but he did partake in the execution, he did fire shots at the individual from his weapon, and we believe he is a British citizen,” said ICSR researcher Joseph Carter. Mr Carter said the man who appears in the execution video “is of the same stature and has the same balaclava and watch” as the British man who appeared in other videos.
In a recent video, Abu Abdullah gave a tour of the home he shares with fellow fighters. “It’s not the five-star that people are saying,” he adds. “This boiler doesn’t work. We only use cold water,” he says to the camera.
The Instagram account that uploaded the video belongs to a group calling itself Rayat al Tawheed (Banner of God), which claims to be the English-language media arm of Isis. “This is an organisation specifically aimed at people in the West. They say openly that they are aimed at English-speaking Muslims to convince them to come out and join them,” he added.
Although it is impossible to confirm the identity of the fighter, if the ICSR is correct, the footage represents the first time since the Syrian civil war began that a British citizen has been filmed committing war crimes in the country. Because of the extremist nature of the groups that foreign jihadists tend to gravitate towards, there have been suspicions that they may have been involved in such killings in the past, but no strong evidence has yet emerged.
“We’ve seen pictures in the past that indicated involvement in beheadings. On one occasion we are able to put it to a fighter and he denied it,” says Shiraz Maher, a senior fellow at ICSR. But experts agree that British fighters are likely to have been involved in similar crimes since the war began.
“Brits out there are there to contribute in the fullest sense. We have already seen a British suicide bomber. Foreign fighters are not there to take back seat. They are full participants in this war, which is a particularly gruesome and bloody war,” he adds.
The total number of British participants in the conflict is estimated to be in the hundreds, with as many as 20 thought to have died in the fighting. Charles Farr, the Home Office’s terror chief, warned recently that Britons travelling to Syria represented “the biggest challenge” to the security services since the 2001 Twin Tower attacks in New York. The British government has been struggling to find ways to deter young radicals from the UK travelling to Syria to fight. Last week it launched a campaign urging the families of young men planning to travel to Syria to intervene and stop them.
As jihadist groups have come under greater pressure from other rebels, many foreign fighters have fled Syria and returned to their country of origin. Security officials have said around 250 British “extremist tourists” have returned home, and are now suspected of wanting to carry out attacks here. Scotland Yard revealed Syria-related terrorism arrests are soaring with 16 so far this year, compared with 24 in 2013.
A Government spokesman said: “This demonstrates why we have consistently called for the situation in Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court.
“Whether this barbaric act is specifically a war crime is for a court to decide. Horrific atrocities have been committed by both the Assad regime and by extremists. The international community must ensure that all those responsible are held to account.”