It was right to strip Jihadi Jack of his citizenship

Now we need to support Nuremberg-style trials in Syria.

Macer Gifford

Topics Politics UK World

All over the UK, there are families breathing a sigh of relief to hear that the ISIS terrorist, Jack Letts (known as Jihadi Jack), has been stripped of his British citizenship. Since the fall of the Islamic State in March 2019, the British public has been faced with the terrifying possibility of dozens of ISIS terrorists returning to the UK.

Jack Letts isn’t as well-known as some of the other British ISIS fighters. The emotionless and unrepentant terrorists – like Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh – tend to be lavished with a lot more media attention. The so-called ‘Beatles’ terror cell (of which those two men were a part) was responsible for some of the most high-profile and gruesome murders in the history of the conflict. Jack Letts, on the other hand, has always managed to keep a relatively low profile.

What we do know is that Letts travelled to Syria when ISIS declared its ‘caliphate’ in 2014. He spent much of his time in the Islamic State capital of Raqqa. In an interview with the BBC after his capture by the Kurdish YPG, he admitted having fought on the frontline with ISIS. He went so far as to offer himself as a suicide bomber. He was eventually wounded and claims to have grown disillusioned with ISIS, resulting in his attempt to leave in 2017.

These claims don’t stand up when you look at his social-media posts and interviews before his capture. Online he stated that he hated his family ‘for the sake of Allah’, that he is an enemy of the West, and that he wished to decapitate a British soldier. He was in ISIS territory for three years and only attempted to leave after the coalition forces had already begun their operation to take Raqqa.

To most British people, the idea that Letts will never again walk our streets is a blessing. The priority of the British government is to keep the public safe. Let’s never forget that Salman Abedi – the son of a known jihadist in Libya – was allowed into the UK after spending time with his family in a warzone. He would later detonate a suicide bomb that took the lives of 22 people, the youngest of which was an eight-year-old girl, in Manchester.

Let’s never forget, or forgive, what ISIS has done to Syria and Iraq. In my view, every single man and woman in the Islamic State is a threat to the UK. I may be wrong, of course, and the vast majority may be disillusioned and ready for a new life, but all it takes is one to come back and commit an act of terror. Would we ever forgive ourselves if a returning ISIS supporter took a knife into a school, or bomb on the Underground, or drove a truck into a Christmas market?

What do we owe the men and women who joined ISIS? They left the comfort of Britain to join a mass-murdering death cult that wants to destroy Western civilisation. They supported and participated in the mass rape of Yazidi women; some girls were as young as nine when they were sold in cages alongside their mothers. I have seen with my own eyes the brothels that ISIS opened in Raqqa. The horrifying testimony of the young girls and the revolting conditions they were kept in will haunt me for the rest of my life.

As well as keeping the public safe, the next duty of the British government is to deliver justice. We must support the brave men and women of the Syrian Democratic Forces who defeated the Islamic State and liberated eastern Syria. The cost of jailing thousands of ISIS fighters is draining their resources and diverting crucial resources away from reconstruction. If Britain is to have such a large foreign-aid budget then why shouldn’t we provide financial, legal and diplomatic support to our partners on the ground in Syria?

The Syrian Democratic Forces have already offered to help create a Nuremberg-inspired court in Syria. This idea brings with it legal challenges, but the chance to put foreign ISIS members on trial in the place where they committed their crimes is compelling. Syria is an international conflict where more than 20,000 foreign fighters travelled from around the world to participate. An international court in Syria – or possibly even Iraq – would at least remove the likelihood of thousands of dangerous jihadists coming back to the West.

The removal of British passports is neither a long-term solution to the threat posed by jihadists nor a suitable punishment for their terrible crimes. It’s a great thing that Jack Letts has lost his passport. But to keep our country truly safe, and to deliver justice to victims, let us make sure he loses his liberty as well.

Macer Gifford is a human-rights activist and anti-ISIS campaigner. He served for three years in the Kurdish YPG. Follow him on Twitter: @macergifford.

Listen to Macer Gifford discuss his experiences on the frontline, the barbarism of ISIS and the future of Kurdish statehood on The Brendan O’Neill Show:

It was right to strip Jihadi Jack of his citizenship

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James Knight

19th August 2019 at 6:08 pm

But it seems this was only done because he has a Canadian passport. Passing the buck to Canada hardly looks like high principles.

jessica christon

19th August 2019 at 4:09 pm

Who are the “Syrian democratic forces” that the writer says our foreign aid budget should be spent on assisting? If they are the assorted ‘moderate rebel’ groups then no, we shouldn’t be supporting them in any way whatsoever, because we know that the ‘moderate rebels’ are just breakaway ISIS cells and jihadists of a slightly different flavour.

The only authority that we should support in Syria is President Assad, and had we done this at the start instead of adopting the ridiculous ‘Assad must go’ position, there wouldn’t have been anything for the likes of Jihadi Jack and Shamima Begum to join.

Cedar Grove

23rd August 2019 at 8:26 pm

The SDF are primarily the Kurds who fought Da’esh face to face. They are trying to establish a broader democratic coalition, inclusive of Arab and Turcoman groups living in a majority-Kurdish area.

They’re nothing to do with the groups we have classified as “moderate rebels”. As anyone expressing opinions about Syria ought to know.

Winston Stanley

19th August 2019 at 2:44 pm

The writer appears sadly mistaken that IS is over, it has switched to a war of attrition in Iraq/ Syria and globally it claimed 152 attacks in the first ten days of August. It is resurgent in Syria and insurgent in Iraq this quarter according to the US Defence Department, and it still has up to 30,000 fighters in Iraq/ Syria according to the UN. It has regrouped, re-established control and command capabilities, and it has sleeper cells throughout those two countries. It is particularly active in the elimination of tribal leaders and anyone who cooperates with the state authorities.

Elsewhere, the US and Taliban have failed to dislodge or to halt the growth of IS in the east of Afghanistan, and it now stands to replace the Taliban as the major militant force should the latter make agreement with the US. It is also spread particularly to Libya, Egypt, SE Asia, and it expands throughout sub-Saharan Africa. IS, like AQ, is proving irradicable after 20 years of the “War on Terror”, indeed jihadi groups have grown and spread exponentially during that period with now hundreds of thousands of fighters and manifold fronts. It would be nice to think that there might be peace in the world anytime soon but Western interventions rather seem to have made matters worse.

The Kurds are now disappointed that USA has just agreed with Turkey to a buffer zone in northern Syria, but really what did they expect? If they were willing to get used by USA then they got used, no massive surprise there. USA is a geopolitical, strategically minded state and it would be a mistake to imagine that it is anything else.

Cedar Grove

23rd August 2019 at 9:13 pm

It’s not so much that the Kurds were “willing to get used” as that they needed help when Da’esh attacked them. For a long time they had to cope alone, & they did brilliantly, holding Kobane and rescuing Yezidi women when no one else would.

But the Kurds did benefit from coalition air strikes, and other forms of (limited) American aid. Why should they not have hoped that since they did all the ground fighting against Da’esh, they wouldn’t be abandoned afterwards?

They set up an inclusive, secular-democratic, gender-equal community in northern Syria. We’re supposed to be decent people. We’re supposed to encourage democracy. The Kurds should have been able to rely on us.

David Lindsay

19th August 2019 at 2:01 pm

You do not have to like Jack Letts to be extremely concerned when politicians start revoking people’s citizenship. If you would merely qualify for another nationality, whether or not you held it or wanted it, then your British citizenship can now be revoked at a stroke of the Home Secretary’s pen.

Saint Helena has never become independent and it never will, so I am all right this side of Scottish independence. But beyond the fair South Atlantic, most of Britain’s former colonies in the Caribbean are independent now. And 50 per cent of people in Britain with an Afro-Caribbean parent also have a white parent. If you are in that position, even if your other ancestors have been Anglo-Saxon for as long as there have been any Anglo-Saxons, or even if Julius Caesar heard them speaking the language that is now Welsh, then your British citizenship could now be revoked at a stroke of the Home Secretary’s pen.

If you are one of the huge proportion of the population of Great Britain with an ancestral connection to Ireland, or if you are almost any of the current inhabitants of Northern Ireland including all 10 DUP MPs, then your British citizenship could now be revoked at a stroke of the Home Secretary’s pen. And if you would qualify under Israel’s Law of Return, which is considerably looser than the Rabbinical definition of who is Jewish, then your British citizenship could now be revoked at a stroke of the Home Secretary’s pen. How about that for anti-Semitism?

All this, and the return of the sus law, too. This is the most racist British Government since the term became current. But then, look at the other side. Never mind the sus law. When that lot was last in, then it tried to introduce the pass laws.

Look at Margaret Hodge, who recently called Shraga Stern “a second-class Jew”. Look at Nick Cohen, who has demanded that Stern be banished from public life on account of his Yiddish accent. Look at Jess Phillips, who has accused British Pakistanis of importing wives for their disabled sons, and who became famous by claiming to have been rude and abusive towards Britain’s most prominent black politician, Diane Abbott. Look at John Mann, who writes racist material against Gypsy, Romany and Traveller people, and who then distributes it to his constituents. Look at Ruth Smeeth, who organised a lynch mob of dozens of Labour MPs and Peers to march through London and demand, successfully, the expulsion of the immensely distinguished black activist Marc Wadsworth from the Labour Party, not for having lied about Smeeth, but for having been so uppity a Coloured as to have told the truth about her.

Look at all of the BAME Labour MPs, not one of whom has defended either Wadsworth or Jackie Walker. Look at the newly martyred Owen Jones, who has likewise remained silent rather than support Wadsworth, or Walker, or Tony Greenstein, or Chris Williamson, or Julian Assange, or anyone else. Look at Claire Kober, who sought to emulate apartheid South Africa by bulldozing Tottenham and building an all-white luxury gated community over its rubble. Look at David Miliband, who created the “Chagos Marine Protected Area” in order to prevent the Chagossians from returning to their homeland.

Look at Tony Blair, who with George Bush has killed more brown people than any other white man alive. Look at Hilary Armstrong, who at the same time as she was Chief Whip on the Iraq War was banning me from becoming a Labour District Council candidate in her constituency because I was mixed-race. Look at Laura Pidcock, whose election literature in 2017 featured Armstrong’s name, face, and words of endorsement. And look at Simon Henig, the George Wallace of our time, who is now banned from the Durham Miners’ Gala in solidarity with everyone from the Teaching Assistants, to the Palestinians, to me. Henig’s attack on the Teaching Assistants is racist at least in effect, and they have been brought to their sorry pass by the treacherous political advice of Pidcock’s Political Advisor, Ben Sellout.

One could go on.

The Conservative Party is the party of the Windrush scandal and the party that, assisted by the Liberal Democrats, relegalised caste-based discrimination. Theresa May’s Chief of Staff was Gavin Barwell, who as Housing Minister had caused the deaths at Grenfell Tower, itself a property of a flagship Conservative Council. In 2011, under the Coalition, teenage black boys were convicted of rioting based on CCTV footage of entirely different teenage black boys. “They all look the same,” you see. Boris Johnson calls black people “piccaninnies”, and Muslim women “letterboxes”. His Home Secretary, who has denaturalised Letts, is a close ally both of Narendra Modi and of Benjamin Netanyahu. Modi’s Education Minister has slashed scholarships for Dalits (so-called “Untouchables”), while Netanyahu’s Education Minister has described marriage between Jews and non-Jews as “a second Holocaust”.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party has adopted the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism, a silencing of BAME, refugee and migrant voices redolent of Windrush and of Grenfell Tower. Labour submits to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which sacks its black and disabled staff first, which exonerated the Government in relation to Windrush, and members of which profited from Windrush and from blacklisting. A Labour Government evicted the Palestinians. A Labour Government evicted the people of the Chagos Islands, at the same time as it was repressing demonstrations in Hong Kong far more brutally than is happening at the moment. As has already been mentioned, a Labour Government sought to banish the Chagossians permanently by creating the “Chagos Marine Protected Area”.

Another hung Parliament is coming, however, and we need our people to hold the balance of power in it.

Poppy Piway

19th August 2019 at 5:51 pm

Brilliant post – thank you.

Cedar Grove

23rd August 2019 at 8:51 pm


It’s a matter of well-documented fact that people of Pakistani origin in the north of England, roughly 3% of the population, were producing 33% of the country’s genetically-damaged children – because they refused to stop importing cousins to marry, and wouldn’t engage with genetic testing so they could marry cousins with a less risky profile. The entire Bradford health service had to be re-shaped to accommodate this.

You wouldn’t support criticism of this practice as racist if you’d seen the hospital wards set aside for the damaged children, some of them suffering from a condition which means the slightest friction, even from a garment, tears their skin. And then bacteria invade so they’re covered in suppurating, painful boils. That’s only one of the debilitating and often fatal conditions inflicted on hapless children.

Jess Phillips is shedding some light on the propagation of this problem by the importation of more female relatives to satisfy the sexual, and other, needs of already genetically-challenged men. Good for her.

Gareth Hart

19th August 2019 at 6:58 pm

I have to agree with the concern of giving one individual the power to revoke citizenship from anyone, particularly if there is a demand from the public to extend the ability of the Home Secretary to revoke citizenship from anyone. Alongside a demand from the public for the Government to be allowed to make people stateless under the guise of keeping extremism out of the country, despite International Law and treaties we are signatories to. If that were to happen, it will be used against ISIS fighters first – no-one is going to give them any sympathy whatsoever so they’re an easy target. But it won’t stop at them, it will spread. Such powers are ripe for abuse and will be used as such.

There is also the issue that rather than deal with why individuals are becoming radicalised while resident in the UK, we just strip them of their citizenship, pass them on to someone else, wipe our hands and pretend radicalisation never happens in the UK, we’re too civilised to have that happen – it must be other countries that done it.

James Hillier

19th August 2019 at 10:33 am

This is the best commentary on this issue I have seen. I’ve been slightly horrified by the widespread calls to simply strip British Isis recruits of their UK citizenship and forget about them. One objection is moral: we shouldn’t strip them of their citizenship without due process and leave them with, in practice, little or no recourse. The other objection was pragmatic. I don’t want these people, who have proven themselves capable of joining the most murderous terror group, unaccounted for. I want them secured and under supervision.

The proposal here seems to address both objections. The Isis recruit could be tried in Syria, by a Nuremberg-style court under international observation, if on the basis of the available evidence he or she is found not guilty or guilty only of lesser crimes, then the UK diplomatic service could support that person in making an appeal.

But if the suspect is found guilty of active participation in Isis atrocities, he or she can be jailed in a maximum-security Spandau-style facility, either for the rest of their lives or for so long, that there will be plenty of time for governments to work out what should happen to them and where they should go when they are released.

Jim Lawrie

19th August 2019 at 8:34 pm

“I want them secured and under supervision.” I want them under the ground. Six feet of it. They’re all guilty art and part. Those in this country who aided and abetted them to be sent to Syria for trial.

Winston Stanley

19th August 2019 at 10:09 pm

“art and part”

Look who is talking, hope that your own state never gets ahold of you.

Jim Lawrie

19th August 2019 at 11:44 pm

Ach c’moan Stanley. I used the Sassenach terminology in the next sentence.

As long as Nicola Sturgeon is in the driving set, wur gaun naewhere. Except doonhill. Fast.

Cedar Grove

23rd August 2019 at 8:34 pm

The Kurds have been asking the West to do this for the last year. We just ignore them.

They are now in the position of having to feed, and otherwise take care of, the people who’ve attempted genocide against both Yezidis and Kurds.

They are a small group with few resources. Tens of thousands of their young people were killed fighting a terrorist group equipped with US weapons abandoned by the Iraqi army, because for some years, they only had old rifles to use against tanks.

Turkey has invaded Afrin and other towns in northern Syria – as if the Kurds haven’t had enough violence to contend with. They can’t be expected to keep supporting jihadis indefinitely. The sooner we get it together to organise trials in the territory formerly controlled by Da’esh, the better.

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