PARIS- The increasing numbers of young jihadists heading to fight in Syria has sparked fear in Britain, France and Belgium that they could pose a major security threat upon return home as battle-hardened veterans.
Scores of Europeans have already lost their lives in the bloody three-year-old conflict, which shows no sign of abating, and more and more are leaving for Syria, officials and experts told AFP.
French Interior Minister Manuel Valls recently said there were 250 nationals fighting in Syria and at least 21 had died. The dead include two young men from a white middle-class family who converted to Islam.
"The phenomenon worries me, to say the least," said Valls on Sunday. "For me, this is the biggest danger we'll have to face in the coming years."
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said more than 20 of his countrymen had perished in combat. Belgian experts say there are more than 200 nationals fighting in the country.
According to German intelligence, more than 270 Germans have left for Syria and at least 15 have died.
Usama Hasan, senior researcher at the Quilliam Foundation, a British counter-extremism think-tank, said estimates of the number of British jihadists who have headed to Syria range from 200 to 1,200.
Hasan said while the bulk had gone there with the aim of ousting President Bashar al-Assad, the British government was right in worrying that some could bring their jihadist skills home.