Wednesday, December 02, 2015
Birmingham terrorists pictured with AK47s appeal against jail terms
Birmingham friends who were jailed for travelling to Syria to join the fight against Bashar al-Assad have launched appeals against their sentences.
Computer science student Yusuf Zubair Sarwar and former postal worker Mohammed Nahin Ahmed joined up with the Free Syrian Army after flying to the Middle East via Turkey in 2013.
But when the pair who come from Handsworth returned,
the 23-year-olds were arrested
and, in December last year, jailed for terror offences.
They were caught when family members called police after they found out they had travelled to the war-torn country.
Now the pair, who famously posed with AK 47 Kalashnikov assault rifles for pictures, claim they were too harshly punished – because they were not fighting for Islamic State.
In May 2013 the men purchased one-way tickets to Turkey
and later went on to cross the Syrian border
When they returned to the UK after eight months away, officers from the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit were waiting at Heathrow to arrest them.
Traces of military grade explosives were found on their clothing and pictures on their camera showed them brandishing weapons.
Detectives used satellite imaging to establish
from the photographs that the men
had been in and around Aleppo – one of the main conflict zones.
The friends – who have known each other since their days at secondary school – left home in May last year, telling their parents they were going on a holiday to Turkey.
Shortly afterwards Sarwar’s mother found a handwritten note explaining the real reason for the journey was to engage in “jihad” with a group called Kataib Al Muhajireen.
Mrs Sarwar took the letter to police
and reported her son missing
Joel Bennathan QC told the Court of Appeal that the men’s sentences - 12 years and eight months, with five-year extended licences – were far too long.
When they travelled, the group they intended to join, affiliated to the al-Nusra Front, was not a proscribed terrorist organisation, he said.
And when they got there, unhappy with the violent tactics of the group, they had instead joined up with the Free Syrian Army.
That group, which was fighting Assad, had received some support from the UK government at the time, he told the court.
The fact they were assisting such a group, and not Isis, was ‘substantial mitigation’, he continued.
Neither of the men had intended any harm to the UK and had not planned to commit an atrocity on their return.
‘The combination should have meant there should have been a considerably shorter sentence,’ he said.
‘We say the lack of intent towards the UK is highly significant when the judge is thinking about how future dangerousness is attended to.’
For the prosecution, Brian Altman QC said a letter Sarwar left for his mum before he flew showed he had thought about becoming a ‘martyr’.
They were not ‘naive young men’, he continued. They had bought items including balaclavas and binoculars before they flew out, he said.
“We submit that although this was a severe sentence, it was intended to be. The judge was not wrong to find them dangerous,” he added.
After a half-day of argument, Lord Justice Treacy, Mrs Justice Elisabeth Laing and Sir David Maddison reserved their judgment until a later date.
Lord Justice Treacy said: “There are a number of important issues which arise in this serious case and we propose to take time to consider our conclusions.”
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