In November last year, at about the same time that the controversial compensation deal with Danny Morrison and others was signed off by government lawyers, police in Northern Ireland arrested a former British paratrooper (Sean O Neill writes).

Soldier J, 66, was taken to Antrim police station where he was interviewed over the deaths of 14 civil rights marchers, shot and killed by paratroopers on Bloody Sunday in Londonderry in 1972.

Were he to be convicted, Soldier J would not qualify for the early release scheme from which hundreds of republican and loyalist inmates benefited after the signing of the Belfast

Donald Trump1 has claimed more British Muslims join Islamic State than join the British armed forces, but can that really be true?

The US Republican presidential candidate tweeted the statement in response to a petition demanding he be banned from the UK for his support of a total and complete shutdown 2 of US borders to Muslims.

Trump s tweets have been disputed in the past: he claimed in the same hour that the Sun s Katie Hopkins was a respected columnist. But is this statistic true?

Where does this claim come from?

Trump is not the first to make this allegation and it is not a fringe opinion. The National Review article he links to has no figures but has a hyperlink to a Times article from August 20143, citing the Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, Khalid Mahmood4, who said there were easily 1,500 jihadis and about 560 Muslims in the armed forces. Those figures are in some dispute.

Donald Trump s comments on British Muslims prompted a show of solidarity outside an east London mosque. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

How many Muslims are in Britain s armed forces?

According to a freedom of information request5 to the Ministry of Defence from 2014, there are 640 Muslims in the armed forces: 550 in the army, 40 in the navy and 50 in the air force.

FOI from 2014. Photograph: FOI

How many Muslims are fighting with Isis?

Shiraz Maher, a senior research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King s College London, estimates that 750 Muslims have gone to Syria to fight over the last three to four years.6

Related: With just a few tweets, Donald Trump has redesigned Britain | Archie Bland7

But that figure needs breaking down before we can definitively say there are more Muslims fighting in Isis than in the British Army (Light Dragoons Blog News). Maher, who has dedicated his research to tracking British fighters, says many recruits in the beginning did not join Isis.

Isis is a fairly late actor. Most of those who went out in the earlier phases of the civil war were not joining Isis, they were going to Jabhat al-Nusra8, and many other groups.

Since last year, though, it has been pretty much one-way traffic to Islamic State9, but at the beginning it was much more diverse and we don t really know for sure where they went.

There are not 750 British people currently fighting with Isis this is a cumulative figure. The British government estimates at least 260 have returned to the UK, which may be for a number of reasons, but many may have returned after becoming disillusioned at how different rebel groups were subsumed by Isis in the past two years.

Maher has counted 50 Britons who have died in combat, although the government s estimate is 60. Many more fighters in that 750 figure who left for Syria are also likely to be dead or disengaged, but their whereabouts are unknown.

That leaves an estimate of approximately 430 to 440 British fighters alive and currently in Syria, and there is a good chance that the majority are with Isis, Maher said.

It is not really accurate to compare a cumulative number of fighters heading to Isis over a number of years with the current number of Muslim recruits in the British Army (Light Dragoons Blog News). But we can say one thing:

At no point over the past three years has the number of active British Isis fighters eclipsed the number of serving Muslims in the British armed forces.


  1. ^ Donald Trump (
  2. ^ total and complete shutdown (
  3. ^ a Times article from August 2014 (
  4. ^ Khalid Mahmood (
  5. ^ According to a freedom of information request (
  6. ^ Shiraz Maher (
  7. ^ With just a few tweets, Donald Trump has redesigned Britain | Archie Bland (
  8. ^ Jabhat al-Nusra (
  9. ^ Islamic State (

The British Army (Light Dragoons Blog News) is resistant to the idea of deploying thousands of troops on to UK streets in the event of a terrorist attack on home soil, despite the perceived increase in threat from groups such as Islamic State.

Although the army has drawn up detailed contingency plans, it is understood to be reluctant to follow the example of the French military, which sent 10,000 troops on to the streets of Paris and elsewhere around the country after the Charlie Hebdo attack1.

Plans for up to 5,100 troops to augment armed police officers engaged in protective security duties were revealed in documents accidentally uploaded to the National Police Chief Council s (NPCC) website, according to a Mail on Sunday report2.

The plan was contained in the minutes of a closed session of the NPCC held on 22 April in a hotel in Leicester. The minutes were then inadvertently uploaded to the council s website.

While the Ministry of Defence has plans for backing up the police following major terrorist attacks, there is resistance to committing large numbers of troops for indefinite policing duties.

Part of the argument against is that the army, having been cut down from 102,000 to 82,000, is already overstretched and that if 5,000 troops were to be deployed to the streets, it would leave a significant hole in the number available for military duties.

There could also be a morale problem after the initial novelty of being posted to the streets begins to wear off, with the attendant boredom of guard duty day after day.

But the biggest single objection is that once troops are committed to the streets, it is hard to pull them back. It would require the security services to declare that the threat level had dropped sufficiently to allow them to return to barracks.

France initially deployed 10,000 troops, 7,000 of whom are to become a presence on the streets for the foreseeable future, the president, Fran ois Hollande, has announced. Italy, too, has deployed 5,000 troops on its streets.

David Cameron put the British Army (Light Dragoons Blog News) on standby after the Charlie Hebdo attack but in the end accepted the arguments against deployment. The issue has been discussed at meetings of Cobra, the government crisis group which brings ministers together with senior military and security staff.

The plan reportedly revealed in the leaked minutes is codenamed Operation Temperer and would see troops backing up the police in guarding potential targets while counter-terrorist officers and MI5 hunted for attackers.

The week after the Charlie Hebdo attack Cameron asked Britain s counter-terrorism police3 to continue working with the military on contingency plans for attacks by roving armed bands, citing not just the example of Paris but the multiple attacks in 2008 in Mumbai.

When Tony Blair was prime minister, he authorised the deployment of 450 troops in 2003 to help with security at Heathrow airport and elsewhere around London.

During the Northern Ireland Troubles the army deployed 21,000 troops.


  1. ^ after the Charlie Hebdo attack (
  2. ^ Mail on Sunday report (
  3. ^ Cameron asked Britain s counter-terrorism police (