Thousands of ISIS sleeper cells could attack Britain despite Syria defeat
Thousands of Islamic State terrorists defeated by the Western-backed military have ghosted into Syria, forming sleeper cells and emerging to launch bloody attacks.
Despite the caliphate’s military defeat by Kurdish-led forces fighters are still plotting revenge attacks on countries like Britain and remain under feared Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s command.
The Mirror has been in northern Syria for the past 10 days, where more than a dozen Kurdish troops have been slaughtered by IS-fifth columnists while we were there.
Everywhere, soldiers and locals fear Baghdadi’s sleepers – especially in Raqqa, which was taken from IS in 2017 but has been rocked by terrorist bombs recently.
Chillingly Syrian Democratic Forces commanders, allies of a western anti-IS coalition warned Britain faces more attacks, inspired by the resurgent jihadi menace.
As we learned in our exclusive prison interview with jailed “Beatles” jihadi Alexanda Kotey, Kurdish military chiefs stressed the most violent fighters were Brits who were killed, are in prison or may even be back in the UK.
And tens of thousands of junior “Cubs of the Caliphate” raised by hate-filled mothers are poised to be the next generation of killers unless they can be saved from the fanatical group’s clutches.
Mervan Kamishlo is a Syrian Democratic Forces commander, who smashed the caliphate with his comrades.
He warned: “There still thousands of sleepers here. When we succeeded militarily they disappeared.”
Asked if they and mastermind Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi could inspire attacks in Britain he said:
“Absolutely 100 per cent they could – they are alive and they have a command structure.
“They still think they are a state. Their sleeper network is a mafia. They will come back.
“Baghdadi is smart militarily. He and his commanders are clever mentally.
“We believe he is in Syria and able to communicate with his commanders. This presents a global threat to everyone not just here but in the west too.
“But the most dangerous of the fighters were not locals Arab fighters – they were Europeans, yes the British. I fought against them.
“They were most dangerous. Clever, well educated and that they gave up so much back home shows commitment.
“Some were big Daesh commanders. They were smart and that mixed with terrorism makes them dangerous.”
Kamishlo believes all of the 800 British fighters who came here are either dead, jailed or have fled elsewhere, possibly back to Europe.
He warned: “There are tens of thousands of Islamic State children in the refugee camps whose minds are poisoned.
“They witnessed beheadings, torture, murder, men hanging in the street, women beaten, killed because their hair is showing and war.
“Daesh showed the world how dangerous they are.
“These children need lots of psychological, specialist treatment to help them, or they will be a danger to the world in years to come. Like a ticking bomb. It is a tragedy but it is also a big fear.”
In seven years of fighting jihadists in Syria the Kurdish YPG- which later formed the Syrian Democratic Forces- lost 12,000 troops with 20,000 injured.
Syria’s complex, multi-sided war began in 2011 with the Assad regime brutally trying to quell an unarmed uprising after the Middle East’s Arab Spring.
It became an armed rebellion, which split into groups, before ISIS migrated from neighbouring Iraq.
Half of Syria’s population has been un-housed, 5.6 million are refugees, half a million have died – including many women and children and IS has been driven underground.
The group’s former Raqqa HQ, which the SDF took four months to overrun, is still riddled with IS cells.
The final battle for Baghouz, Daesh’s last slither of land left tens of thousands of Islamic State brides and children in secure SDF refugee camps in northern Syria.
The SDF wants to secure Rojava, where IS made its last stand, and stop the sleeper cells.
Everywhere locals whisper fears about the cells – fuelled further by raging crop fires, the worst in years, sweeping through Syria.
One local said: “Sleeper cells are starting the fires – it is terrifying if it is true but nobody knows.
“A village could burn at night killing everyone. These fires have claimed lives already.”
The remote SDF “Shahin” outpost, 20 miles into the scorched desert outside Hasakah took Kurds seven months to take from IS.
It is now home to an SDF counter-terror unit fighting the sleeper cells.
Commander Heval Demhat Brosk, 29, said: “It was a tough battle to take the base from them but we know Islamic State are still out there.”
As we watched troops training for counter-terror missions in baking 45 degree heat, another soldier called Khartab, 28, said: “I fought Islamic State in Baghouz – it’s hard to describe fighting for 24 hours a-day. We will fight as long as we are alive.”
At its peak, the IS caliphate ruled 34,000 square miles of territory from West Syria to East Iraq and ruled more than eight million people.
It generated a war chest of billions of dollars from extortion, kidnapping, bank robberies, stealing and selling antiquities and oil theft.
IS was the biggest and richest terror group in modern history.
Millions have been squirrelled away and even banked in unscrupulous financial establishments and al-Baghdadi and his henchmen still have access to vast funds.
IS also had an army of 30,000 fighters. In almost a decade from a tiny al-Qaeda splinter group to the monster-sized death cult it became it has lost as many as 60,000 fighters.
But it also had medics, teachers, financial clerks and all of the administration personnel of a growing society. And it had influence over a network of collaborators from Iraq to Syria and into Europe via Turkey.
IS may well have been defeated in its heartlands, but Western intelligence agencies still have a huge battle on their hands to contain the terrorists hell bent on revenge.
NIGHTMARE CONTINUES FOR ISIS VICTIMS IN SYRIA
In a small village outside Hasakah, north Syria, the horror of IS’s cruel reign hangs over the community.
Noma Hemedi el-Gerzi, who is in her mid-50s, lost son Shaker, 25, after he helped a “stranger” whose motorbike had broken down.
Sitting cross-legged in her home she told us tearfully: “There was an argument as Shaker tried to leave.
“This stranger was an Islamic State fighter and they would not let him.
“Shaker told the man, ‘Have you no god that you won’t let me go after I helped you?’.
“They beat him with rifles. I heard his screams from our home. My poor Shaker, he was just trying to help someone.”
Shaker was jailed and told: “If you tell the judge you abused God then he will set you free as he will know you are telling the truth.”
Shaker made the forced admission but was shot dead.