British prosecutors have said that the participation of any British citizen in the war in Syria against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad regime is a criminal offence in the UK.
The UK Crown Prosecution Service has also pledged to prosecute any British person or group of persons who may intend to commit such offences, before they travel to Syria.
Sue Hemming, the head of counter-terrorism department at the CPS, said the UK anti-terrorism laws forbid fighting against regimes in other countries, even if these regimes are seen as dictatorships.
“Potentially, it is an offence to go out and get involved in a conflict, however loathsome you think the people on the other side are,” Hemming explained in a rare public interview with British daily the Evening Standard.
She was referring to the British Terrorism Act of 2006 which outlaws acts preparatory to terrorism, assisting another people in such activity, training a terrorist or attending a training camp. The penalty ranges from 10 years to life in prison.
According to British police, 16 persons have been arrested this year on suspicion of Syrian terrorism activities. About 24 persons were arrested last year.
UK officials, including Ms Hemming, warn British Muslims not to travel to Syria to join extremist groups like Jabhet Al-Nusra, which was proscribed in the UK as terrorist organisation.
In the interview, Hemming said that Brits who take part in such acts “could then be a threat to this country.”
Some UK-based political analysts describe people who are seeking to topple Al-Assad’s regime as freedom fighters.
However, Hemming argues she is only applying the law.
“The people have got views about all sorts of conflicts and all sorts of places, but our government chooses to have legislation which prevents people from joining in whichever conflict they have views about,” she said.
“We will apply the law robustly.”