Britain should encourage jihadis fighting in Syria and Iraq to “come home”, the former global counter-terrorism director of MI6 has said.

David Cameron outlined new powers last week for police to seize the passports of terrorist suspects and stop British extremists from returning to the UK. Others, including Boris Johnson, the London mayor, have called for British jihadis to have their citizenship removed.

However, Richard Barrett, a former counter-terrorism chief at MI5 and MI6, said repentant fighters needed “to know that there is a place for them back at home”.

His comments follow reports that dozens of disillusioned British jihadis are looking at ways to return to the UK, but fear being imprisoned. Barrett, who also led the UN mission to track down Osama bin Laden, said returning fighters could prove an invaluable asset in dissuading potential jihadis from travelling to fight with Islamic State (Isis).

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