Sunday 19 November 2017

Jihadi who faked his own death in Syria jailed for 12 years

Imran Khawaja was photographed holding the severed head of a man
Imran Khawaja was photographed holding the severed head of a man

Adam Withnall

A jihadi who faked his own death to return to the UK after fighting in Syria has been sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Imran Khawaja, 27, pleaded guilty to four terror offences, including preparation for acts of terror, after he joined a training camp with the Rayat al-Tawheed (RAT) militant group

Sentencing him today at Woolwich Crown Court, Mr Justice Jeremy Baker handed down a 12-year term for the most serious count of attending a terror training camp, with an additional five years on licence.

For the three other counts, which also included weapons training and possession of an article for terrorist purposes, Khawaja received sentences between seven and 11 years that will be served at the same time as the 12-year term. He will spend a minimum of eight years in prison.

During his time in Syria, Khawaja posed for a video while holding the severed heads of two Syrian soldiers in order to “create propaganda” for the insurgents.

He was also pictured holding a series of weapons, including a fully automatic assault rifle, and standing on an anti-aircraft gun.

Read more: British jihadist who faked his death in Syria to return home facing life in prison after terrorism conviction

For reasons which remain unclear, Khawaja decided to return to Britain in June last year, and posted his own online obituary on Twitter and Instagram announcing he was “killed in battle a few nights ago” in a bid to throw off the authorities.

But the police were waiting for him when he arrived at Dover, and took him immediately into custody.

Today, Mr Justice Jeremy Baker said he did not accept that Khawaja’s return to the UK was out of concern for his worried family, instead suggesting that it was sanctioned by the RAT militant group - and that he therefore represented a risk to the public.

The judge said that while he could not be certain Khawaja was involved in active fighting in his six months in Syria, the Londoner had been a "willing and enthusiastic" participant in recruitment videos.

"It is clear in the last few years you have been showing an increasing interest in Islamic jihadist material," Mr Justice Baker said. "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's cousin, Tahir Bhatti, drove from Watford to Serbia in a bid to bring the jihadi back home.

He was also arrested when the pair arrived in the UK, and was jailed for 21 months today after pleading guilty to assisting an offender.

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