UK jihadi gets 17-year sentence

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Published: Friday 6th February 2015 by The News Editor

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A British jihadi nicknamed “Barbie” who fled a Syrian training camp because he had “had enough” of conditions there has been handed a 17-year extended sentence.

Imran Khawaja, 27, complained of a lack of toiletries, cocoa butter and condoms for the “war booty” during his six-month stint with the Rayat al-Tawheed (RAT) insurgents in the war-torn country last year.

The bodybuilder appeared in gruesome videos posted online for Islamic State’s propagandist arm, including posing with severed heads and dead fighters.

He initially resisted his family’s pleas for him to return to the UK.

But in June, Khawaja, of Southall, Middlesex, snuck back home after telling friends he needed to raise further funds to support the RAT cause. He was able to do so after falsely spreading word of his death online.

He was stopped by port officials at Dover while trying to regain entry to the UK with his older cousin, Tahir Bhatti, who had been dispatched to rescue him.

Jailing Khawaja at Woolwich Crown Court today, judge Jeremy Baker handed him a 17-year term for the most serious offence. It will comprise a 12-year custodial term before being released on licence. He will serve a minimum of eight years.

The judge described Khawaja as a “willing and enthusiastic” participant in recruitment films, and dismissed Khawaja’s claim that he came home to see his family and regretted his actions.

He said Khawaja therefore presented a risk to the public.

The judge said: “It is clear in the last few years you have been showing an increasing interest in Islamic jihadist material.

“You took part in the production of films designed to promote the Islamic State cause and encouraging UK Muslims to join you in jihad.

“Your interest was sufficiently profound for you to travel to Syria to train for jihad.

“I’m also satisfied, by the time you decided to return to the UK, you had completed your terrorist training.” Khawaja showed no emotion as he was led from the court.

Khawaja pleaded guilty to preparation of acts of terror – the most serious offence, for which he was given the 17-year term. He was also handed seven-year terms for attending a terrorist training camp and for weapons training, and an 11-year term for possession of an article for terrorist purposes. All sentences will run concurrently.

His counsel Henry Blaxland QC told the court his client had a very low IQ and had been “indoctrinated” in the months before he fled for Syria, in January 2014.

In messages sent by the former immigration centre worker to his family and friends, read before the court yesterday, Khawaja repeadly lied about when he was coming home before confiding he was there to die a martyr.

In one text exchange with his sister Azmeena, Khawaja said to tell his grief-stricken family he was doing charity work – “driving an ambulance der (Syria) or sumtin” (sic).

The chilling lie echoes the case of British hostage Alan Henning, the humanitarian who was captured by Islamic State militants while on an aid convoy in December 2013. Footage of his brutal murder was released in October last year.

In reality, Khawaja was whipping up domestic support for his cause by appearing in harrowing footage and speaking publicly about his desire for frontline action.

The court heard a series of newspaper articles published from June 3 last year reporting Khawaja’s death were based on RAT posts on Twitter and Instagram announcing Khawaja “was killed in battle a few nights ago”.

Prosecutor Brian Altman said the postings provided cover for Khawaja’s return to the UK, on June 3.

But Khawaja’s plan was foiled when his cousin, Bhatti, 43, admitted to border staff that the “road trip” he initially said the pair were returning from was actually a rescue mission for his younger relative.

The court heard taxi company owner Bhatti, of Watford, Hertfordshire, wanted to help his family after successive failed attempts to hasten Khawaja’s return by texting pictures of English food were dismissed by the young terrorist. At one stage, Khawaja’s sister Azmeena threatened to travel the well-worn terrorist path to Syria to fetch her brother if he failed to return.

Instead, Khawaja sent her pictures of his time in Syria with RAT. In one section of footage, played before a hushed court, Mr Altman said Khawaja could be seen picking up severed heads from the back of a flatbed truck and saying: “Heads. Kuffar (non-Muslims). Disgusting.”

Away from his fellow RAT members, Khawaja complained about conditions.

He told friend Asil Ali – who pleaded guilty to entering into a funding arrangement for the purposes of terrorism after handing Khawaja £300 for his cause – he needed toiletries and loo roll while in Syria.

The court heard Ali sent a message to a friend saying Khawaja “needs cocoa butter, toothpaste, soap and condoms for the war booty”.

Mr Altman said messages between Khawaja and Ali hinted that he was returning to the UK to help with fundraising as his friends back home had failed to do so.

But in a note to the judge, Khawaja said he had “nightmares” about his time in Syria and urged “the young men of Britain” not to “make the same mistake” he had.

Ali, 33, of Ealing, West London, was handed a 21-month custodial term for entering into a funding arrangement for the purposes of terrorism. The judge said the offence was serious enough to warrant an immediate jail term, despite the £300 donation representing a relatively small sum.

Bhatti was also given a 21-month sentence for assisting an offender. His term was reduced to 95 days after time spent in custody awaiting the trial was taken into account.

Members of the defendants’ families gasped as the sentences were delivered.

Published: Friday 6th February 2015 by The News Editor

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