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Imams urge UK Muslims to shun Iraq, Syria ‘Britain had plan to train, equip 100,000 Syrian rebels’

LONDON, July 4, (RT$RS): More than 100 Islamic prayerleaders from various denominations of Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims have signed a letter calling on British Muslims not to travel to Iraq or Syria to fight. “We urge the British Muslim communities to continue the generous and tireless efforts to support all of those affected by the crisis in Syria and unfolding events in Iraq, but to do so from the UK in a safe and responsible way,” the open letter, released on Friday, says. An estimated 500 British Muslims are believed to have taken up arms in Syria.

Security services say the influx of Western Muslims to Syria creates a threat to the West, when radicalised fighters return home from fighting in the region. Britain has stepped up security at airports after US officials said they were concerned that al-Qaeda operatives in Syria and Yemen were developing bombs that could be smuggled onto planes. Western officials are worried that the recent battlefield successes of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an al-Qaeda splinter group, have drawn a growing number of militants from America and Europe to the jihadist cause and they would have easy access to flights headed for US cities. “As we near the end of the first week of Ramadan our message is simple, we have come together to urge British Muslim communities not to fall prey to any form of sectarian divisions or social discord,” said Qari Mohammed Asim, an Islamic prayer leader in the northern English city of Leeds. In another report, Britain had planned to train and equip a 100,000-strong rebel army to defeat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad before it was deemed to be too risky, BBC Newsnight reported on Thursday.

The BBC said the secret “extract, equip, train” proposal, put forward two years ago, was the idea of General David Richards, then chief of Britain’s defence A spokesman for the UK Ministry of Defence declined to comment on the article. The secret initiative was considered by Prime Minister David Cameron and the National Security Council, as well as US officials, the news agency said, citing Whitehall sources. The BBC said Richards’s initiative proposed vetting and training “a substantial army” of moderate Syrian rebels at bases in Turkey and Jordan.

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