British citizens affiliated to jihadist groups in Iraq will be hunted down as part of a new kill or capture strategy, according to senior defense sources.
A list of UK citizens that features around 200 jihadists currently at large in Iraq has been compiled by the UK’s intelligence agencies, the sources told the Times.
“A kill list has been drawn up containing the names of hundreds of very bad people. A lot of them are from the UK. The hunt is now on for British Islamists who have effectively gone off-grid,” one anonymous figure told the paper.
“This is a multinational special forces operation. The SAS have their own part of the plan and they will be going after British nationals. This is a kill or capture mission and it has already begun.”
While the figures are approximate, the source said a significant number are likely to be operating in Iraq.
“That’s the challenge we face. There is a lot of international co-operation because it’s regarded as a global problem,” the source added.
The launch of the operation contrasts sharply with recent claims that UK special forces have been effectively crippled by concerns over legal action down the line.
“We just can’t do things the old way,” said an SAS source quoted by the Sunday Express last week.
“The Americans are seeing a reticence that did not exist before. We have always stayed within the box, but we used to work things out as we went along.”
The source also expressed fears that “each and every one of us can suddenly come back to find our names on an investigations list. Or it could happen many months, or even years later.”
The concerns are compelling troops to “check and double check orders, work things out to the smallest detail … the delay is causing impatience with the Americans,” the source said.
A Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokesperson told RT that they “do not comment on special forces activities.”
Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor-in-chief of the Arabic digital newspaper Rai al-Youm, told RT that such extra-judicial killings have been going on quite some time.
“They’ve managed to assassinate or kill Jihadi John and others who are fighting under the Islamist extremist banner in Iraq and Syria, so I believe they will continue these kind of things,” he said. “It seems the British special forces are trying to exploit this kind of panic against the Islamic State fighters in order to kill all those ex-British, or British actually, nationals who are fighting with the Islamic State.”
“All members of the coalition are pursuing the same policies, to kill people, not actually capture them or bring them to justice,” he added. “We have to capture them and bring them to justice and after that we can tell if they are criminals. If they are criminals they should be charged and sent to prison, if they are innocent they should be released.”
However, targeted assassinations might not be the only purpose of British special forces in Iraq. Speaking to RT, Mark Almond, director of the Crisis Research Institute, proposed that their operations may be a cover to exfiltrate deep-cover agents embedded in extremist groups.
“It’s quite likely that there will be intelligence agents, who probably are special forces-trained, who have been masquerading as supporters of the radical jihadis of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,” he explained.
“And so part of this operation is, as you said, try and eliminate the threat of returning jihadis with military and terrorist training to Europe. Part of it may also be to actually rescue some of our people who have infiltrated into these groups, people who might well come from the British Pakistani and other Muslim communities who have been recruited to play a role on behalf of the West. So there’re various layers of what’s going on, and it’s of course a very dangerous situation for everyone concerned.”