British Isis fighters should be hunted down and killed, says defence secretary

Britons who have fought for Islamic State abroad should be hunted down and killed to ensure they never return to the UK, the defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, has said.

In the strongest remarks yet from a senior cabinet minister, Williamson suggested there was deliberate targeting of British jihadists by the armed forces fighting Isis as the group retreats in Syria and Iraq.

The new defence secretary told the Daily Mail: “A dead terrorist can’t cause any harm to Britain.”

“I do not believe that any terrorist, whether they come from this country or any other, should ever be allowed back into this country,” he said. “We should do everything we can do to destroy and eliminate that threat.”

Profile

Who is Gavin Williamson?

Before Westminster

Born in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, he had a comprehensive education before going on to gain a degree in social science at the University of Bradford. Williamson then worked for a while in the pottery industry and for an architectural design firm before being elected MP for South Staffordshire in 2010 at the age of 33.

The rapid rise

Just a few years after his election, Williamson became David Cameron’s parliamentary aide, acting as his eyes and ears among MPs. But when Cameron stepped down, Williamson quickly threw his lot in with Theresa May as the most effective stop-Boris candidate and was adopted as her campaign manager. Having impressed with his organisational skills, he was elevated to  chief whip, despite not having previously served as a minister.

Defence secretary

After becoming pivotal in the deal with the Democratic Unionist party (DUP), Williamson earned May’s respect for managing difficult parliamentary votes with the slimmest of DUP-backed majorities. His move into the cabinet after Sir Michael Fallon resigned over allegations of sexual harassment appears to position him as a potential Conservative leader, but the backlash among MPs was significant.

Spider man

He is best known in Westminster for keeping a tarantula called Cronus in a glass box on his desk, seemingly to intimidate MPs who have stepped out of line. The creature is named after the Greek god who came to power by castrating his own father before eating his own children to ensure they would not oust him.

In his own words

“I don’t very much believe in the stick, but it’s amazing what can be achieved with a sharpened carrot.”

Williamson said jihadist groups in Libya, Iraq and Syria were breeding grounds for plotting attacks in the UK. “Our job in terms of eliminating will not stop this year, will not stop next year – it is something we have got to continue to pursue,” he said.

His remarks put him at odds with the head of the terrorism watchdog, who recently said the UK could attempt to reintegrate young and naive jihadists who wanted to return to the UK.

Max Hill, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, warned of the danger of “losing a generation” of men and women by automatically using the courts to punish them.

More than 800 UK citizens are thought to have gone to fight for Isis in Iraq and Syria, including teenagers, women and young families.

“We have got to make sure that as [they] splinter and as they disperse across Iraq and Syria and other areas, we continue to hunt them down,” he said. “Make sure there is no safe space for them, that they can’t go to other countries preaching their hate, preaching their cult of death.”

The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, is due to deliver a speech on Thursday on British efforts to tackle terrorism, including hitting back at suggestions from the EU Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, that the vote to leave the bloc had meant Britain had decided to take a step back from co-operation.

“Every day around the world I can tell you that British serving men and women are putting their lives at risk to roll up terrorist networks, to expose what they are doing, to thwart them and bring them to justice,” he will say.

“They are making good on what the prime minister has rightly called the unconditional commitment of the British people to the security of our European friends, not just in this continent but beyond.”

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