Britain rallies women’s help to stop youth from fighting in Syria

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Women walk through the rubble following a reported air strike attack by government forces on the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on February 13, 2014. More than 136,000 people have been killed in Syria's nearly three-year war, and millions more forced to flee their homes. AFP PHOTO/AMC/KHALED KHATIB
Women walking through the rubble following a reported air strike attack by government forces on the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. AFP Photo / AMC / Khaled Khatib

LONDON, April 23, 2014 (AFP) – British police reached out to Muslim women in an attempt to prevent young people from going to fight in Syria, after a sharp rise in arrests related to the conflict.

Counter-terrorism officials launched a national campaign to raise awareness of the risks of travelling to Syria, especially for those who just want to offer humanitarian aid.

The campaign was prompted by an increase in the number of Britons caught travelling or returning from Syria, from 25 arrests last year to 40 in the first three months of 2014. Several of those arrested were subsequently charged with terrorism-related offences.

Only last week, a father from Brighton on England’s southern coast, Abubaker Deghayes, revealed that three of his sons had gone to fight in Syria, one of whom was killed in a battle. Abdullah Deghayes, 18, died earlier this month after leaving Britain in January, while his 20-year-old brother Amer suffered a bullet wound to the stomach in the same fighting.

“We are increasingly concerned about the numbers of young people who have or are intending to travel to Syria to join the conflict,” said Helen Ball, senior national coordinator for counter-terrorism.

“We want to ensure that people, particularly women, who are concerned about their loved ones are given enough information about what they can do to prevent this from happening. We want to increase their confidence in the police and partners to encourage them to come forward so that we can intervene and help. This is not about criminalising people, it is about preventing tragedies.”

The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London estimates that between 200 and 366 British nationals have gone to Syria to participate in the conflict.

Police will hold meetings across Britain today with women from different community groups, charity workers and government officials involved in preventing extremism. A leaflet has been prepared outlining the risks of travelling to Syria, which will be handed out at airports and ports.

The Charities Commission is also involved in the campaign, to advise people on how they can help send humanitarian aid to Syria without the money falling into the hands of extremists. The commission’s chairman, William Shawcross, warned at the weekend that charities should be particularly vigilant about how their aid is used in countries such as Syria and Somalia.

Three charities are being investigated for raising funds for Syria while seven others are being monitored.

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