Friday, December 05, 2014

Youth club leader who lived Walter Mitty lifestyle and became first Briton to be prosecuted for joining ISIS in Syria is jailed for four years

  • Youth club leader is the first Briton to be prosecuted for travelling to Syria
  • Mashudur Choudhury only one of gang to return after attempt to join ISIS
  • But he returned to Britain after just 18 days after failing selection process 
  • Court heard he planned to move family to Syria but wife thought it 'barmy'
  • Has been ubbed Walter Mitty after lying to wife about having cancer 
  • Borrowed £35,000 for 'treatment' but spent it on prostitutes and holidays 
  • In May found guilty of preparing acts of terrorism and has now been jailed
Mashudur Choudhury, the first Briton to be prosecuted for joining ISIS, has today been jailed for four years for preparing acts of terrorism
Mashudur Choudhury, the first Briton to be prosecuted for joining ISIS, has today been jailed for four years for preparing acts of terrorism
A youth club leader who was described as 'living a Walter Mitty lifestyle' and is the first Briton to be prosecuted for travelling to Syria to join ISIS has been jailed for four years.

Father-of-two Mashudur Choudhury, 31, is the only one of a group of six young men from Portsmouth to have returned after joining the brutal terror group.

All but one of those who stayed has since been killed in the fighting - but Choudhury was apparently sent back after failing the selection process. 

Sentencing him at Kingston Crown Court, Judge Paul Dodgson said Choudhury had encouraged a large number of other young men to follow in his footsteps.

Speaking at Kingston Crown Court in South West London, the judge said: 'Whatever the motivation, anybody who prepares to fight for a political or ideological cause in another country must be in no doubt that they commit a serious offence.

'I have no doubt that when you embarked on this trip you and your companions hoped that your actions would encourage others to take the same journey.

'That has indeed occurred with the disastrous consequences we, and so many young men's families, now live with.'

The judge said that Choudhury had been 'living a lie' having cultivated an image of himself as a 'teacher or scholar' and projected an image to the younger members of the group of 'being some sort of elder who could advise and guide them.'

'I believe in your imagination you saw yourself as some sort of leader and potential hero,' the judge said, before adding that when Choudhury got to the camp 'you were either deemed unsuitable or that when your fantasises collided with the harsh realities of the fighting in Syria, you lost the will to remain there.' 

The judge said that while Choudhury was not the leader of the group, 'There is no doubt in my mind that you, as the older man, encouraged them to remain committed to their plan and in due course you were even suggesting routes for them.'

He said that Choudhury even had an 'absurd' plan to move his wife and two young children to Syria, but his wife thought it was 'barmy'. 

The Muslim community in Portsmouth blamed Choudhury, a father of two young children who ran a local youth group, for encouraging the others to leave and alerted the police.

Choudhury was arrested when he returned to Gatwick after 18 days abroad in October last year and at first claimed he had been doing aid work.

When he eventually admitted that he had met fighters, he said he was made to do the cooking and washing and had to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to children.

But during the trial even his own barrister said he was 'soaked in lies' as it emerged that he had been living a Walter Mitty lifestyle.

He had lied to his wife about having cancer, borrowed more than £35,000 from relatives for treatment and spent the money on prostitutes and foreign holidays.

He was found guilty in May of preparing acts of terrorism but there was a delay in sentencing pending a decision on another case from the Court of Appeal.

On October 8 last year, Choudhury's friend, Hamidur Rahman, a worker in Primark in Portsmouth, made a booking for himself and four others to fly from London Gatwick to Antalya, Turkey.

CCTV at Fratton Station in Portsmouth showed Rahman along with Mamunur Roshid and Assad Uzzaman boarding a train at 4.34am.

Choudhury set off by car to secretly join them at Gatwick airport where they checked into flight TCX1712 along with a fifth man, Mehdi Hassan, who had arrived by train separately.

They were heading to Syria to meet up with Ifitkhar Jaman, who had become something of a social media celebrity after Tweeting about the 'five star jihad' and appearing on BBC Newsnight.

Jaman was the first of the group to be killed in fighting in December last year. Hamidur was killed in August, and Roshid and Hassan were killed in a US airstrike on Kobane in October, leaving only Uzzaman alive. 

It not believed any of them died fighting the forces of the Assad regime.

Choudhury lied to his family and told them he had cancer - and then spent the money they gave him for treatment on holidays abroad and prostitutes
Choudhury lied to his family and told them he had cancer - and then spent the money they gave him for treatment on holidays abroad and prostitutes
Choudhury had proposed calling the group the 'Britani Brigade Bangladeshi Bad Boys' – until one of them pointed out the title was too long.

Their departure prompted anger at Choudhury from his local mosque and an anonymous letter was sent to Hampshire police, sources say.

In Portsmouth, Choudhury ran the Muslim Youth Project and worked as a racial awareness officer for the city council where he was asked to run part of the local Prevent programme to counter violent extremism.

He lasted less than two years in the job and then gave it up to buy a cafĂ© near his local mosque in Portsmouth, borrowing £17,000 from his wife's sister, but the business failed.

Despite his financial difficulties Choudhury bought a £17,000 Audi A6 on hire purchase and made three trips to Marrakesh in Morocco with friends, telling his wife he was on a business trip.

He set himself up as a 'life coach' claiming he had 'trained and coached Muslim and non-Muslim professionals on personal development' and giving false examples of his work.

As part of the pretence, he set up a company called UnlimitedU Success Limited and wrote a blog explaining how Islam had helped him overcome cancer.

He also used Twitter to encourage young Muslims to move to a Muslim country and fight jihad. His activity even involved setting up a false Twitter account so that he could re-Tweet messages that backed his views.

Alison Morgan, prosecuting, said Choudhury was 'leaving the shame of the life he had behind him to fight and become a martyr and make something of himself.'

Police were able to access Choudary's Twitter and WhatsApp internet messages which exposed his wife's annoyance at his desire to go and fight abroad.

In one message his wife told him: 'Your treatment of me, I just want to die. I hate your attitude. May you die. I hate you…You want to die in battlefield, go die.

 I really mean it, just go. I'll be relieved at last.'

In May 2010, Choudhury's wife, who worked for Portsmouth City Council as a tenancy support officer, came home from work to find him lying in bed.

'She came upstairs and pulled the duvet off and I had been emotional at the time, I had been crying, at that time, I don't know what came into my head, but I told my wife I was diagnosed with cancer.'

His wife's mother had died a few days earlier from cancer.

Muhammad Hamidur Rahman (pictured left)  and Ifthekar Jaman (right) both from Portsmouth, were part of Choudhury's group who travelled to Syria in October last year to fight for ISIS - both died in the fighting

'She burst into tears. I tried to calm her down and say, 'I'm fine, nothing's going to happen, I'm taking treatment,' he said.

He had heard about a treatment in Singapore and added: 'I told my wife I wanted to go to Singapore. I just had a lot of pressure building up inside of me and I wanted to get away, I felt a failure in regards to the business.'

Choudhury borrowed £8,000 from his wife's sister and another £27,000 from his own family and friends to pay for three trips to Singapore, texting back home with updates about fake operations.

In Singapore, he claimed he went to a hospital for an appointment but never returned for tests and spent most of his time in Starbucks. 

When he arrived back in Britain, he told his wife he had an 'internal operation, one that wouldn't leave a scar.'

He posed as a businessman called Ali Montana in Singapore and spent hundreds of pounds seeking 'female company.' 

On his return to Portsmouth he sent a series of explicit emails to an escort agency 'arranging sexual services,' Kingston Crown Court heard.

Choudhury said he was 'utterly ashamed and embarrassed. I degraded myself to a level I never thought I would go.'

Last October four friends were planning to emmigrate to Syria 'to help people and give aid,' Choudhury said. 

He said he thought it was a 'noble thing' and eventually decided to join them.

Choudhury said he 'just wanted to get away' and have a 'fresh start, a clean slate' and to 'start a new life.'

'That's why I wanted to go to Syria,' he said. 'To leave behind the lies and deceit and the debts.'

But in a series of Tweets on September 16 and 17, he wrote: 'Leaving wife & kids behind for Jihad feesabilillah [in the cause of Allah] becomes easy if the belief of Akhirah [hereafter] is sincerely accepted…All my life I strived to be something, someone, but isn't being a Muslim something, someone. 

'Isn't being a Muslim the best thing ever?... The life of this world is nothing but a sweet poison that quenches the thirst of desire and drags the ungrateful soul deeper into Hell!'

Choudhury's wife only found out about his lies when the trial opened. 

She gave evidence for the defence, saying: 'These messages, he's absolutely barmy, he's gone mad, he says things like this out of the blue, it's ridiculous, ridiculous...It p***es me off so much.'

The judge said that Choudhury's wife, Toslima Akhtar, 34, 'would have a lot to forgive' but Hossein Zahir, defending, said the relationship was 'strained but maybe now on the mend.'

Ifitkhar Jaman's two brothers Tuhin, 26, and Mustakim, 23 face charges of trying to travel to Syria for terrorism. 

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