ISIS Airways: terrorists on board! Destination? Jihad.
Muhammad Hamidur Rahman, 25, Mashadur Choudhury, 31, Assad Uzzaman, 25, Mehdi Hassan, 19, and Mamunur Roshid had booked cheap tickets on a Thomas Cook flight to the Turkish resort of Antalya on October 8. [Thomas Cook]
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Arriving at Gatwick laden with luggage, they look like any other tourists setting off on a fortnight’s holiday to Turkey.
In reality, the smiling Britons captured on CCTV were heading to Syria to fight their so-called ‘holy war’.
Muhammad Hamidur Rahman, 25, Mashadur Choudhury, 31, Assad Uzzaman, 25, Mehdi Hassan, 19, and Mamunur Roshid had booked cheap tickets on a Thomas Cook flight to the Turkish resort of Antalya on October 8.
Calling themselves the Britani Brigade Bangladeshi Bad Boys, the fanatics, all from Portsmouth, had been seduced by glamorous tales of martyrdom to join Islamic State – formerly Isis – establishing a Muslim caliphate in the Middle East.
Today Rahman, a shop assistant at Primark until he was sacked, is reportedly dead, killed in a gun battle last month.
Meanwhile, Choudhury, a one-time council official turned swindler who enjoyed using £200-a-night prostitutes, is languishing in a British jail.
He failed the selection process to join Isis and was thrown out of its training camp in disgrace.
On his return, he was arrested and became the first Briton to be found guilty of travelling to Syria to fight in the civil war.
The whereabouts of the other three are unclear, but they are still thought to be fighting with IS.
The ease with which they were able to slip over Turkey’s porous border with Syria has caused alarm in the West and prompted calls to Ankara to make sure it is closed.
Up to 30 radicalised Britons a month are now travelling to Syria and Iraq across the frontier – dubbed the Jihad Express – that has become a gateway to IS.
The number has increased markedly in the last ten weeks as the profile of the group has been raised by its well-run propaganda machine and catalogue of barbaric crimes.
Monitoring and electronic surveillance has shown that far from putting would-be recruits off, the beheadings and other atrocities are drawing more people to join IS.
Intelligence agencies fear the number of Britons and other Europeans going to fight could increase further if IS extremists succeed in securing a stretch of the Turkish border with north-western Syria as a safe area through which recruits can safely travel.
Disturbingly, a large force of extremists is reported to be moving towards the border in convoys of armoured trucks captured from Iraqi military forces.
Their goal is to provide a guaranteed gateway through which new fighters can pass safely.
The 130-mile frontier has so far been key to allowing recruits into Syria, as well as smuggled oil and weapons.
Much of the border area is difficult to patrol or to police, a mixture of rugged mountain passes and plains over which an estimated 800 to 1,000 Britons have travelled. It is also the route used by most of the 250 Britons whom officials say have returned to the UK.
A British jihadist feared to be one of the militants behind US journalist James Foley’s killing boasted of how simple it was to sneak unseen into Syria.
Abu Abdullah al-Britani was asked by a reporter posing as a potential fighter whether he faced problems if he flew from Britain to Turkey before illegally crossing the border. The jihadist replied: ‘Na, it’s pretty easy.’
IS’s UK recruits are told how to leave Britain – always travelling to Turkey via two other countries to avoid suspicion.
They are also told who to contact in Turkey and which hotels and safe houses to use. Some travel as tourists but many end up at Hatay airport, ten miles from the border with Syria.
Once safely in accommodation they make contact using a telephone number or email address. Within 48 hours they are usually picked up by motorcycle or taxi and taken across the border to IS training camps.
Unofficial operations are on-going to track the militants in the border area. Intelligence services are monitoring Britons and other foreign fighters but Turkey has been reluctant to stop anyone from crossing.
For months it has allowed weapons and supplies destined for recognised Syrian opposition groups to cross. European governments have been frustrated that little appears to have been done.
Dr Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi expert on IS, said: ‘The Turkish border is the only way to smuggle oil, weapons and foreign fighters in.
'If it is closed, it will cut three things: funding, an entrance for the foreign fighters and links to Europe which they are trying to open.’
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