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Europeans who fight in Syrian war ‘may be a threat at home,’ says EU counter-terrorism chief

The EU’s counter-terrorism chief, Gilles de Kerchove, has warned that Europeans travelling to Syria to join the rebels could pose a threat back home on their return , echoing concerns in Belgium where the government is considering intercepting aspiring fighters at airports.

Fears are growing throughout Europe that impressionable young Muslims could come into contact with Islamist factions of the opposition. Al-Qa’ida-linked groups are known to operate on the fringes of the movement to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

The Netherlands has raised its terror alert to “substantial”, citing fears that people returning from Syria could plot attacks, while Belgian police raided dozens of homes across the country last week in an effort to crack down on the networks recruiting potential fighters.

“Not all of them are radical when they leave, but most likely many of them will be radicalised there, will be trained,” Gilles de Kerchove told the BBC. “And as we’ve seen this might lead to a serious threat when they get back.”

He estimated that about 500 Europeans were in Syria fighting with the rebels.

A study by King’s College London earlier this month put the figure at 600. Security officials in the UK have said that up to 100 British Muslims have gone to fight in Syria.

They fear the conflict is not only attracting young men who sympathise with the rebels, but also aspiring jihadists who want to train and fight.

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