A Lebanese official warned British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday that the Islamic State is sending trained fighters posing as Syrian refugees to attack Western targets.
Education Minister Elias Bousaab told Cameron during the British leader’s one-day trip to the region that two in every 100 Syrians entering Europe are Islamic State-trained fanatics, the Daily Mail reported.
More than 4 million Syrians have fled to Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt since the conflict in their homeland erupted in 2011. Lebanon, which has a population of less than five million, is home to more than one million Syrian refugees.
The extremist Islamic State group controls nearly half of Syria, more than four years after the start of an uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad. The militant group has also seized large areas of Iraq.
Bousaab said the IS picks out targets, including children, in refugee camps and schools and then traffics them into Europe via Turkey and Greece, the Mail said. He added that the threat posed by IS is “growing and mushrooming.”
The Pope also warned Monday of the danger of infiltration by extremists posing as refugees.
“It’s true that 400 kilometers (250 miles) from Sicily, there is an exceedingly cruel terrorist guerrilla group, and it’s true there’s the danger of infiltration,” Francis told Portuguese Catholic radio station Renascenca, in an apparent reference to Islamic State extremists.
Cameron on Monday urged the international community to send more aid to Syrian refugees in Middle Eastern host countries as a way of stemming the mass migration to Europe.
He was speaking at a meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, after touring the sprawling Zaatari refugee camp, which is home to more than 80,000 Syrians.
With the crisis dragging on, UN agencies, including the World Food Program, have faced growing funding gaps, prompting sharp cutbacks in food and cash aid to refugees in the region’s host countries.
Aid officials say this loss of support has helped fuel attempts by growing numbers of refugees to reach Europe.
Cameron said Britain has given about £1 billion ($1.53 billion) to the region so far and that he hopes that “other countries will do more.”
He said it is import to support refugees in countries close to Syria “so they don’t make that perilous journey across the seas which has led to such appalling losses of life,” according to a statement from the palace in the Jordanian capital, Amman.
Earlier, in Zaatari, the British leader noted that millions have been displaced by the Syrian conflict.
“There is an enormous number who could decide to come to Europe,” he said. “That underlines the importance of other countries supporting the refugee camps and supporting people who remain in Syria.”
European leaders are at odds over how to handle the mass influx to Europe of refugees, many of them Syrians.
EU interior ministers met in Brussels on Monday to discuss how to share 160,000 asylum seekers among the bloc’s 28 nations.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said the member states “agreed in principle” on redistribution, but had not fully laid down refugee quotas. EU ministers had earlier approved a first batch of 32,000 refugees from Italy and Greece.
Cameron has said the scheme would encourage more refugees to try to reach Europe in sometimes fatal journeys across the Mediterranean Sea. Britain has agreed to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees from camps over the next five years.
Jordan’s king said that his country has helped lessen the burden on Europe. “We hope, obviously, that the international community will be able to deal with the terrible humanitarian crisis,” he said.
Earlier Monday, Cameron met in Beirut with his Lebanese counterpart, Tammam Salam, and visited an encampment of Syrian refugees in the eastern Bekaa Valley, close to the Syrian border.
“The refugee crisis that today has reached the heart of Europe is a phenomenon that will not stop expanding unless a political solution is reached that stops the war in Syria,” Salam said.
Cameron said Britain, which has already trained over 5,000 Lebanese soldiers and helped build a series of watch towers on the border with Syria, would continue to help defend Lebanon from IS, which holds territory just 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the Lebanon-Syria border.