MORE than 60 Britons have died while fighting for Islamic terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq, The Daily Telegraph has revealed.
The figure, confirmed by government sources, is twice that reported last year and suggests a sharp increase in the rate of British fighters killed in the service of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Experts say the new death toll means that nearly one in 10 of the estimated 700 British jihadists who have gone to Syria has been killed or has killed themselves in suicide attacks since the conflict started drawing in British foreign fighters in 2012.
The identities of many of those killed have emerged in social media reports emanating from Isil. The disclosure comes as ministers are understood to be planning a bombing campaign against Islamist terrorists in Syria.
David Cameron is expected to call a Commons vote on the issue in the autumn.
It emerged that 43 women and girls are believed to have travelled to Syria from Britain in the past year. Scotland Yard disclosed that almost one female a week had been reported missing by their families to police forces around the country in the past 12 months.
Charlie Winter, a senior researcher at the Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism think tank, said: “The battlefield in Iraq and Syria has really heated up in the last year in terms of what resistance Islamic State is facing as an organisation.
“It’s a combination of coalition airstrikes and offensives on the ground, but not necessarily just when Islamic State’s enemies are making incursions against it. It is also when Islamic State goes on an offensive.
“Just from a monitoring basis I’ve noticed a lot more reports coming through among jihadists that British fighters have died, be that in battle or suicide operations.
“It’s also worth noting that it’s not just Islamic State that these numbers are derived from, and there has been very fierce fighting in northern Syria in particular in which there is a good chance that a few Britons died as well.”
The first Briton killed fighting in Syria was Ibrahim al-Mazwagi, 21, from north London, who died in October 2013. Last month, Talha Asmal, 17, was named as Britain’s youngest suicide bomber after blowing himself up for Isil in an attack against Iraqi forces.
Asmal, from Dewsbury, West Yorks, reportedly detonated a vehicle fitted with explosives while fighting for the militant group in Iraq. Hundreds of Britons are believed to have travelled to Syria to fight.
The police and MI5 fear that some of those who have returned will use their training and experience to plan attacks in Britain.
A Metropolitan Police spokesman said that it “remain[ed] a priority to try to prevent people travelling to join terrorist groups” in Syria, adding: “We will continue to work with our partners and the authorities to combat this risk and prevent tragedies.”
This week Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, warned that children could be running away to join Isil but are able to escape the attentions of police because schools are not obliged to report if they stop attending classes.
By Claire Newell, and Edward Malnick