Crime & the Law

West London man jailed 12 years for attending terrorist training camp in Syria

Imran Khawaja jailed for 12 years with an additional 5 years.

Imran Khawaja clutching a gun on a vehicle in Syria. Image: Met Police

A 27 year old man from west London who attended a terrorism training camp in Syria and faked his death so he could return to Britain unnoticed has been jailed for 12 years.

Imran Khawaja from Foxglove Close, Southall, pleaded guilty to preparing acts of terrorism, attending a terrorist training camp, weapons training and possession of an article for terrorist purposes.

Judge Jeremy Baker at Woolwich Crown Court imposed an additional and extended sentence of five years because of the threat he poses to public safety and his lack of remorse.

He 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.

33 year old Asim Ali from Spikes Bridge Road, Ealing was sentenced to 21 months after pleading guilty to entering into a funding arrangement for the purposes of terrorism.

45 year old Tahir Bhatti from Clarke Way, Watford received 21 months after admitting assisting an offender.

The Court heard that on 26th January 2014 Khawaja left Heathrow Airport and flew abroad to get to Syria to join the training camp.

Imran Khawaja cradling a gun in a terrorism training camp in Syria. Image: Met Police

Imran Khawaja posing with a gun in a terrorism training camp in Syria. Image: Met Police

He was part of a group called ‘Rayat al Tawheed’ which became aligned with Islamic State.

The group began posting violent propaganda online in an attempt to persuade others to come out and join them.

His media propagandist activity drew the attention of the Met Police Counter Terrorism Command.

They work closely with the security service MI5, and began an investigation.

Khawaja features in one of the group’s promotional videos ‘Five Star Jihad’ where he’s introduced as ‘Abu Daigham’.

Three men jailed at Woolwich Crown Court

Custody photographs of Imran Khawaja (L) , Asim Ali (C) and Tahir Bhatti (R) Images: Met Police

The video presents a vision of daily life at the Rayat al Tawheed training camp, encouraging others to join them.

Khawaja is also seen in a disturbing video posted on social media which includes a bag of severed heads.

He appears in the footage with his face covered picking up one of the heads from the bag and showing it to the camera.

The description posted with the video is ‘British ISIS fighter Abu Daigham al-Britani with Government soldier’s head Syria.’

In May 2014, the group put out a message on social media, claiming that Abu Daigham al-Britani had been killed, alongside an image of two masked men holding rifles standing in front of a tank.

The deceptive social media message faking Imran Khawaja's death. Image: Met Police

The deceptive social media message faking Imran Khawaja’s death. Image: Met Police

This was designed to deliberately mislead authorities and the news of his death was picked up and reported by the British media.

However, Khawaja was in fact making his way back to the UK.

On June 3rd 2014 Khawaja and his cousin Tahir Bhatti were arrested by detectives as they entered the UK at Dover port in a hire car.

Commander Richard Walton, Head of the SO15 Counter Terrorism Command said:

The images and video of Khawaja in Syria are horrific and deeply disturbing. He was a senior figure in Rayat al Tawheed, a group aligned to the Islamic State terrorist group that celebrated its terrorist acts through social media back to the UK.

Khawaja chose to become a terrorist, engaged in weapons training in a terrorist training camp and faked his own death in order to conceal his entry back into the UK.

This sentence sends a powerful message to those who plan or prepare acts of terrorism overseas or here in the UK.
We have seen how parts of Syria have become lawless, where murder, torture and crimes against humanity are becoming almost routine.

One of the best ways we can respond to these crimes is to convict terrorists through the rule of law.

A number of addresses linked to Khawaja and Bhatti were searched as part of the investigation.

Messages and photographs were recovered which proved Khawaja had engaged in terrorist training whilst in Syria, which involved learning how to handle military weapons.

A second man was also identified by officers involved in Khawaja’s support network in the UK.

Asim Ali was arrested on 14 August 2014 at his home on suspicion of assisting committing acts of terrorism and suspicion of terrorist funding.

Officers believe Ali played a pivotal role providing support and assistance to Khawaja.

He set up messaging services and provided him with £300 from his bank account before he left the UK.

On 12 December 2014, Khawaja pleaded guilty to:

  • Preparation of acts of Terrorism contrary to section 5 of the Terrorism Act 2006;
  • Attending a Terrorist Training camp contrary section 8 of the Terrorism Act 2006;
  • Weapons training contrary to section 54 of the Terrorism Act 2000;
  • Possession of an Article for Terrorist Purposes contrary to section 57 (1) of the Terrorism Act 2000.

Deborah Walsh of the Crown Prosecution Service, said:

Imran Khawaja’s actions are one of the most appalling examples of violent extremism that I have seen committed by British jihadis returning from Syria.

Photos and videos of Khawaja posing with child soldiers and severed heads defy the understanding of civilised people and paint a picture of a man who would stop at nothing to spread terror and hatred.

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