|Manchester Terrorist Anil Raoufi|
An amateur boxer has become the tenth known Briton to have died fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria.
On Thursday police were searching the house where Anil Khalil Raoufi, 20, a mechanical engineering student, lived with his family in South Manchester. Officers said they were attempting to establish how "a man from the North West" could have come to be killed in Syria, although they did not confirm his identity.
It is believed that Raoufi was fighting with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), a jihadist group linked to al-Qaeda. The disclosure comes amid mounting concern over the number of Britons joining rebels in Syria.
It is believed that several hundred have travelled from Britain to fight in the country, and security services fear they will be trained in terror techniques and return to the UK.
On Thursday Omar Bakri Mohammed, the radical cleric who has been banned from Britain, claimed that a man from Crawley, Sussex, suspected of carrying out a suicide bombing in Syria was a “very dear brother” who had acted as his driver and distributed his lectures.
Abdul Waheed Majeed’s family have insisted he left the UK on an aid mission and could still return. Police said they were assessing how Britons were being drawn into travelling to Syria and “how to prevent others doing the same”.
Detective Chief Inspector Will Chatterton, of the north west counter-terrorism unit, said there was “widespread concern” about Britons were travelling to the country.
Raoufi, who studied mechanical engineering at the University of Liverpool, is believed to have been a prominent jihadist known by the nom de guerre Abu Layth. Shiraz Maher, of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King's College London, said he was the tenth known Briton to have died fighting in Syria.
Many were "self-starters" or "self-radicalisers" who had been drawn into the conflict, he added. Social media profiles run by "Abu Layth" provide updates from the “frontline” where he describes his involvement in fighting “jihad”, or holy war.
Neighbours of the family, who were not at the property yesterday, spoke of their shock as police carried on searches at the family's detached home on a quiet, tree-lined street in Didsbury. Raoufi’s father runs two restaurants on Manchester's "Curry Mile" and his mother, Kamala, is a housewife.
They are believed to have come to the UK from Afghanistan around 10 years ago. Their eldest son is a pharmacist and they also have a daughter and a young son, aged around nine. Posts by friends on the eldest son's Facebook profile eulogise Raoufi. "Legendry lion may allah accept him," says one.
One woman, who did not want to be named, said Raoufi appeared to change from being a "normal" teenager as he grew older. He had been very friendly and enjoyed football with another youngster on the street but then changed his appearance and habits around three years ago.
"When you spoke to Anil on the street he would not say hello like the others did," she said. "He started wearing the robes as well. I was quite frightened of him a little bit. He was not the same." Raoufi’s mother was understood to have been involved in the local neighbourhood watch scheme.
"Abu Layth" tweeted and blogged frequently, using language peppered with British slang. On his blog he recounted his experiences in Syria and posted pictures. One image of him standing on a cannon is captioned:
"The 57 cannon, the best banger to pop you’re eardrums with lol, sweeter than a tank!" He also railed against news articles calling ISIS extremists, and in one posting expressed pride that two boys “not older than 14” had joined him at a training camp.
“We're not like barbaric victorians who sent their children up their fireplaces to die sweeping chimneys for a few shillings. Islam breeds heroes,” he said. A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it was aware of reports of Raoufi's death but could not confirm them.
By Edward Malnick