UK & World News

  • 7 February 2014, 15:15

Syria Jail Attack Suicide Bomber 'Was British'

A British citizen is believed to have carried out a suicide bombing in Syria, according to a leading research unit.

If confirmed it will be the first suicide attack carried out by someone who has travelled from the UK to the fight in the conflict.

Fellow British jihadis currently operating in northwestern Syria have said that a man, known as Abu Suleiman al Britani, drove a vehicle packed with explosives into Aleppo Central Prison on Thursday.

Monitoring groups claimed the attack, which was followed by a gun battle, enabled up to 300 prisoners to break free from the regime-controlled compound.

Initial reports of the role played by al Britani emerged on Twitter late last night.

Shiraz Maher, a senior research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at Kings College in London, made contact with British citizens known to be in Syria in order to confirm the reports.

In one of his communications with a British jihadi, thought to be associated with the Jabhat al Nusra group, he received the response: "Lol, yes, news travels fast. The first British brother!"

The jihadi then claimed a martyrdom video made by al Britani would shortly be posted online.

No further details were given about when he travelled to Syria, or where he comes from in the UK.

However, a photograph of a construction truck was posted online, with claims it was the vehicle used by al Britani.

The image shows the van decked out in Jabhat al Nusra flags.

Aleppo Central Prison, which has been under siege by rebel groups for months, is believed to house around 4,000 prisoners.

It is said to double as a military base for President Bashar al Assad's troops, who retook most of the complex a day after it was stormed, according the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

At least 46 people, including 20 soldiers, 21 rebels and five prisoners, are believed to have died in the fighting.

According to Mr Maher, the attack was a significant development in the battle for the prison.

"Real strategic gains were made by the fighters on the ground and a very large part that was due to this suicide bombing," he said.

"We cannot say for certain this man was a member of Jabhat al Nusra, but they were certainly the force coordinating the attack.

"This indicates there is, at the very least, co-operation between British fighters and the only al Qaeda-endorsed outfit operating on the ground."

The monitoring work being carried out by the Kings College researchers indicates that at least 10 British citizens have been killed fighting for Islamist groups in Syria, two of which died this week.

The fight against President Assad's regime inside Syria has in the last few months become entirely dominated by Islamist groups, and there have been increasingly frequent reports on infighting between rival factions.

Earlier this week, al Qaeda head Ayman al Zawahiri effectively disowned the Islamic State of Iraq in Shams (Isis) as a result of clashes between its fighters and those of Jabhat al Nusra.

Up to 40 British citizens are believed to be currently operating in Syria, in groups that have allegiances to both Isis and Jabhat al Nusra.

In December, Sky News obtained footage of a group of British fighters who were operating as a unit inside Syria, they denied they were connected to al Qaeda.

Shortly after that report was broadcast, the Home Office said it would consider removing citizenship of dual-nationals trying to return to the UK after fighting in Syria.

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