Two British jihadists are understood to have been among scores of militant prisoners handed back to Islamic State by Turkey in return for the release of diplomats held by the group.
British counter-terrorism officers are investigating Shabazz Suleman, 18, a grammar school pupil, and Hisham Folkard, 26. They are thought to be among as many as 180 fighters traded with Isis as part of a deal to secure the release of Turkish consular staff.
The diplomats, including 46 Turkish citizens and three local Iraqi staff, were captured five months ago when Isis stormed the Iraqi city of Mosul.
The Britons were on a leaked list of names passed to The Times and confirmed by Isis sources. Details of the secret deal, which included ten EU citizens held by Turkey, have been confirmed by Syrian rebels and Turkish security sources cited in local media.
A recent report said that the agreement included Isis fighters held in Turkish hospitals and prisons, as well as others in the hands of moderate Syrian rebels.
Britain’s policy of flatly refusing to enter into any such negotiations with terrorists has come under attack after Isis beheaded David Haines and Alan Henning, whose brother-in-law criticised the government’s inaction during his nine-month captivity. Memorial services for the taxi driver turned aid worker, whose murder was revealed in a video released last week, were held at churches and mosques yesterday.
Along with Folkard and Suleman, three French citizens, two Swedes, two Macedonians, one Swiss and one Belgian are all thought to have been released as part of the deal, which were brokered through complex talks with tribes and rebel militias. The EU citizens appear on a list thought to have been leaked by a Turkish government source.
Folkard’s devout Roman Catholic father, who has asked not to be named, said that they last had contact in early August, after officers from the northeast counter-terrorism unit called to inquire about his elder son, Omar.
“I’m not surprised. I see the stories about these boys on TV every week,” he said. “Of course it’s different [that it’s my son], but I hardly knew either of them. Their mother took them away. When she let them go to Yemen to study Islam I cut them off completely.”
Omar Folkard’s passport surfaced in Mali, and it is understood that he is known to the security services. Detectives trying to find Hisham have not ruled out that his passport was being used by his elder brother in Turkey.
Friends of Suleman, who was confirmed missing by the Royal Grammar School in High Wycombe last week, said he had expressed support for what he called “the Islamic caliphate”. He has not been seen since taking study leave in May before his A-levels.
His mother, who said that he travelled out to assist aid efforts, could not be reached for comment.
The deal with Isis, trumpeted by President Erdogan of Turkey as a successful “covert operation” in which no shots were fired and no ransom was paid, also involved relatives of Abu Bakr al-Iraqi, a senior Isis member killed by Syrian rebels in January, according to a spokesman for a group involved in the deal.