Isil jihadists are exploiting the migrant crisis to smuggle terrorists into Europe with fake passports they can then use to travel to the UK, British intelligence officials fear.
Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (Isil) is increasingly exploiting the huge migrant flows to slip jihadist cells through undetected to launch attacks in the UK and elsewhere.
They are mainly travelling on fake Syrian or Iraqi passports which are now so sophisticated it is almost impossible to distinguish between genuine refugees and terror suspects.
The concerns will increase pressure on European leaders to get a grip on the migrant crisis that is engulfing the EU.
It is feared sleeper cells are being established in the UK and across Europe having been sent back by their Isil commanders fully trained and with attack orders.
The strategy is being run out of Isil’s Syrian stronghold in Raqqa where would-be recruits are briefed and handed new identities.
It also means suspects who were under watch by the intelligence agencies suddenly vanish.
It came as one of the EU’s most senior officials disclosed that six in 10 migrants arriving in Europe are economic migrants with no right to asylum.
Frans Timmermans, the first vice president of the European Commission, said that the majority of those coming to the EU are not fleeing war or persecution and that they should be deported.
“It’s about 60 per cent of all asylum seekers. These are people that you can assume have no reason to apply for refugee status”
Frans Timmermans, the first vice president of the European Commission
“It’s about 60 per cent of all asylum seekers,” he said, citing internal figures held by Frontex, the EU border agency. “These are people that you can assume have no reason to apply for refugee status.”
The disclosure that terrorists are exploiting the refugee crisis to gain access to the UK will intensify pressure on the Government ahead of the European Union referendum, which Downing Street is now looking to hold on June 23.
Eurosceptics have warned that the only way of ensuring that terrorists are not able to travel to the UK would be by withdrawing from the EU and imposing much stricter border regulations.
Robert Fico, the Slovakian prime minister, on Tuesday declared the EU is committing a “ritual suicide” by letting so many migrants in to the continent.
Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary and a noted eurosceptic, said that immigration is “effectively uncontrolled” in the EU and has become an issue of “profound public concern”.
There has been growing concern that the refugee crisis would provide opportunities for fanatics to slip in under the radar since the Paris attacks in November.
At least two of the terrorists who killed 130 people in the marauding gun and suicide bomb attack had entered Europe on fake Syrian passports.
It was also feared the ringleader, Belgian Abdelhamid Abaaoud, one of Europe’s most wanted terrorists, was able to return from Syria hiding among the thousands of refugees crossing the Mediterranean to Greece.
A senior British intelligence official said: “Islamic State is skilfully exploiting the migrant crisis to smuggle terror cells from Syria into major European countries such as the UK.
“Jihadists travel to Raqqa to meet up with Isil commanders, where they receive training and new passports.
“They then make their way back to Europe posing as migrants with new identities, making it virtually impossible for security officials to detect potential terrorists among those fleeing persecution.”
Around 800 Britons are believed to have travelled to Syria to join Isil, of which half have since returned to the UK.
Many of those are now being monitored by the authorities but the concern is how many jihadists, British or other, have got in to the UK under false identities.
Another Whitehall source said the potential use of migrant routes is something the security and intelligence agencies are “very mindful of”.
It is believed many will be posing as refugees to simply mingle with the thousands of travellers and avoid attention but there is also a danger some may even put in asylum claims to get in to the UK and reduce any suspicion around them.
Bernard Cazeneuve, the French interior minister, warned on Monday that Isil has formed an entire “industry” out of making fake passports using documents stolen in Iraq, Syria and Libya.
The US intelligence agencies fear the terror group has acquired thousands of blank Syrian passports and at least one passport printing machine after taking over government offices in the war-torn country.
Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons home affairs select committee, which is examining the issue, said: “It is deeply concerning that the migration crisis may be being used as cover for terrorists seeking to commit violent acts in Europe.
“The HASC has heard evidence from the Greek ambassador, who made it clear that Greece does not have the required technology to identify fake Syrian passports.
“The external border of the UK is now the front line in the fight against terrorism”
Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons home affairs select committee
“It is vital for our national security that the UK, and EU as a whole, provides resources to secure the external border to prevent future atrocities like the attacks in Paris last year, and ensure international databases are up to date.
“The external border of the UK is now the front line in the fight against terrorism.”
A Europol report on Monday warned Isil has set up terror training camps around the EU and Balkans to prepare fighters to carry out “special forces style” attacks in the UK or other countries.
It said the group could also target genuine refugees who have fled to Europe but who have become disillusioned to radicalise and turn them in to potential attackers.
Last year a Lebanese minister warned as many as one in 50 refugees could be “radicals” while the Telegraph disclosed that fewer than one in a 100 people entering some countries are checked against the EU’s anti-terrorism watch list.
Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Commissioner, has said that while he is not aware of any terrorist slipping in to the UK as a refugee it was “a concern, it is possible”.