MS Risk Blog

Brit in Jail after Leaving IS-Controlled Territory

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A 21-year-old man from Oxford, who travelled to the Islamic State (IS) – controlled area of Syria in 2014, has now told the BBC that he is currently being held by Kurdish forces fighting the terrorist group.

Jack Letts, who has been dubbed “Jihadi Jack,” is suspected of going to Syria to fight for the so-called Islamic State (IS) group, although he claims that he is opposed to IS and has left that area.   Mr Letts spoke to BBC home affairs correspondent Daniel Sandford via voice and text messages. When asked about leaving the IS-controlled territory, Mr Letts stated, “I found a smuggler and walked behind him through minefields,” adding that he and the smuggler “eventually made it near a Kurdish point where we were shot at twice and slept in a field.” He further disclosed that he is currently in solitary confinement in a prison in Kurdish-held northeastern Syria.

Mr Letts converted to Islam while at Chewell comprehensive school in Oxford. At the age of 18, he travelled to Jordan in 2014 and by the autumn of that year, he was in IS-controlled territory in Syria. He married in Iraq and now has a child. His family has maintained that he did not travel to the region to fight, and instead went there as he was motivated by humanitarian reasons. Speaking to the BBC Mr Letts disclosed that he had been injured in an explosion and had gone to Raqqa, the defacto capital of IS in Syria, in order to recuperate, claiming that he became disillusioned with the terror group about a year ago after it killed its former supporters. He stated, “I hate them more than the Americans hate them…I realized they were not upon the truth so they put me in prison three times and threatened to kill me.” He claimed he had escaped from low-security detention and had been in hiding when he managed to find a people smuggler to take him out.

His parents have also been affected by this ordeal. They have pleaded not guilty to charges of funding terrorism after being accused of sending money to their son. John Letts and Sally Lane have told the BBC that after not hearing from their son for several weeks, they suddenly received a message stating that he was in a safe zone. They have disclosed that they believe that their son is not being treated badly, noting however that they are concerned about his mental health. Neither they nor the BBC have heard from Mr Letts since 1 June. His parents are now calling on the British government to do “whatever they can” in order to help him. According to Ms Lane, the British government had told them that they could only help if he left IS-controlled territory but now he is out “no –one wants to take responsibility.” His family has also acknowledged that if their son returns to Britain, “he will have to account for his actions.”

The UK government advises against all travel to Syria and parts of Iraq and a number of people who have returned from these areas have been prosecuted. In a statement, the Foreign Office disclosed “as all UK consular services hare suspended in Syria and greatly limited in Iraq, it is extremely difficult to confirm the whereabouts and status of British nationals in these areas.