United Kingdom and ISIL

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The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the United Kingdom. British citizens have fought as members of the group, and there has been political debate on how to punish them. On 26 September 2014, Parliament voted to begin Royal Air Force airstrikes against ISIL in northern Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government,[1] which began four days later, using Tornado GR4 jets.[2] On 2 December 2015, the UK Parliament authorised an extension to the Royal Air Force airstrike campaign, joining the US-led international coalition against ISIL in Syria.[3] Hours after the vote, Royal Air Force Tornado jets began bombing ISIL-controlled oilfields.[4]

British citizens in ISIL[edit]

William Hague, then Foreign Secretary, estimated in June 2014 that 400 British citizens were fighting in Syria, some for ISIL.[5] Khalid Mahmood, a Labour MP, estimated that there were at least 1,500 Britons in ISIL.[6] A more accurate source from the BBC estimates around 850 people from the UK had traveled to Iraq and Syria to support or fight for jihadist groups.[7] Former MI6 counter-terrorism head Richard Barrett raised concerns about the potentially large number of radicalised fighters that had returned to Britain from Syria and Iraq.[8]

Journalist James Foley was executed around 19 August 2014, on video by an ISIL member whose accent sounded English.[9] The killer, Mohammed Emwazi, was described in the media as "Jihadi John".

In August 2014, activists in London handed out leaflets in support of ISIL outside the busy Oxford Circus branch of Topshop.[10]

On 7 September 2015, a Royal Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone conducted an airstrike in Syria which killed two British-born ISIL fighters.[11]

On 24 October 2017, it was announced that a British man who had been fighting against Isil with the Kurdish YPG in Raqqa had been killed whilst trying to clear land mines. This took the total number of British volunteers fighting Isis in Syria to six.[12]


The British government proscribed ISIL as a terrorist organisation in June 2014. Previously, it had been proscribed as a part of Al-Qaeda. The government describes the group as follows:[13]

ISIL is a brutal Sunni Islamist terrorist group active in Iraq and Syria. The group adheres to a global jihadist ideology, following an extreme interpretation of Islam, which is anti-Western and promotes sectarian violence. ISIL aims to establish an Islamic State governed by Shari'a law in the region and impose their rule on people using violence and extortion.

In August 2014, British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that anybody displaying the black standard in the United Kingdom should be arrested.[14]

Home Secretary Theresa May suggested new measures against radical preachers, stripping citizenship from naturalised Britons who fought for ISIL, and trying British-born ISIL members for engaging in terrorism abroad.[15] Other figures, such as Mayor of London Boris Johnson,[16] Conservative backbench MP David Davis,[17] former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey[17] and UKIP leader Nigel Farage have stated that all British citizens in ISIS should lose their citizenship.[18] On 29 August 2014, the UK terror threat was raised from "substantial" to "severe".[19]

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a senior MP, advocated an alliance with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to defeat ISIL.[20] This was ruled out by Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, who stated "We may very well find that we are aligned against a common enemy. But that does not make us able to trust them, it does not make us able to work with them and it would poison what we are trying to achieve in separating moderate Sunni opinion from the poisonous ideology of [ISIS] if we were to align ourselves with President Assad."[21]

Royal Air Force Tornado jets and Chinook helicopters based in Cyprus have provided humanitarian aid to Yazidi refugees fleeing ISIL, as well as airlifts.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sparrow, Andrew; Phipps, Claire (26 September 2014). "UK parliament approves air strikes against Isis in Iraq – as it happened". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 January 2015.
  2. ^ Sengupta, Kim (30 September 2014). "Iraq crisis: British jets drop bombs on Isis, helping Kurdish fighters battling the militants". The Independent. Retrieved 31 January 2015.
  3. ^ Wintour, Patrick. "Britain carries out first Syria airstrikes after MPs approve action against Isis". the Guardian. Retrieved 2015-12-03.
  4. ^ "RAF starts bombing Isis oil fields in Syria - as it happened". The Independent. Retrieved 2015-12-03.
  5. ^ Wintour, Patrick; Watt, Nicholas (16 June 2014). "Up to 400 British citizens may be fighting in Syria, says William Hague". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
  6. ^ Withnall, Adam (23 June 2014). "Iraq crisis: Isis 'has recruited at least 1,500 Britons' to fight abroad, warns Birmingham MP". The Independent. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
  7. ^ "Who are Britain's jihadists?". 12 October 2017 – via www.bbc.co.uk.
  8. ^ Owen, Jonathan (22 June 2014). "Syria civil war: Hundreds of radicalised fighters are already back in the UK, warns former MI6 chief". The Independent. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
  9. ^ Nick Allen and Philip Sherwell (August 20, 2014). "Hunt for 'British' Islamic State killer of US journalist James Foley". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved August 20, 2014.
  10. ^ Cooper, Charles (14 August 2014). "Isis supporters are on the streets of London — but the media needs to stop panicking". The Independent. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
  11. ^ "Two Britons killed in RAF Syria strike, PM tells MPs". BBC. 7 September 2015. Retrieved 7 September 2015.
  12. ^ "British man who went to fight Isis dies clearing landmines". The Independent. 24 October 2017.
  13. ^ "Proscribed Terrorist Organisations" (PDF). Home Office. 20 June 2014. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  14. ^ "Iraq crisis: Cameron warns of possible IS threat to UK". BBC News. 16 August 2014. Retrieved 17 August 2014.
  15. ^ "Theresa May considering banning orders to combat British extremism". The Guardian. Press Association. 23 August 2014. Retrieved 25 August 2014.
  16. ^ "Britons in Syria and Iraq should be presumed guilty, Boris Johnson says". BBC News. 25 August 2014. Retrieved 25 August 2014.
  17. ^ a b Sparrow, Andrew (24 August 2014). "British jihadists 'should be stripped of citizenship', says David Davis". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 August 2014.
  18. ^ Gander, Kashmira (20 August 2014). "Ukip leader Nigel Farage calls for Britons joining the Islamic State abroad to be stripped of British citizenship". The Independent. Retrieved 25 August 2014.
  19. ^ "UK terror threat level raised to 'severe'". BBC News. 29 August 2014. Retrieved 2 September 2014.
  20. ^ Jones, Sam (21 August 2014). "US and allies must join Assad to defeat Isis, warns British MP". Financial Times. Retrieved 25 August 2014.
  21. ^ Sparrow, Andrew (22 August 2014). "UK rules out alliance with Bashar al-Assad in fight against Isis". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 August 2014.
  22. ^ "RAF Tornado jets in Cyprus for Iraq aid mission". BBC News. 12 August 2014. Retrieved 25 August 2014.