20 May 2014

First Briton convicted of Syria terror offences

A father of two becomes the first person in the UK to be convicted of terrorist offences in connection with the Syria conflict.

Mashudur Choudhury, 31, went to the Middle Eastern country with the intention of joining a terrorist training camp last October. He was arrested at Gatwick Airport on his return later that month.

During the two-week trial the court heard that Choudhury, of Stubbington Avenue, Portsmouth, travelled to Syria with four other people from his local area.

Alison Morgan, prosecuting, told the jury: “The evidence clearly shows that this defendant planned for and then travelled to Syria with the intention of attending a training camp.

“At times in his discussions with others the defendant described his intention to become a martyr.”

Ms Morgan read out a number of messages exchanged by Ifthekar Jaman, another man from Portsmouth, and the defendant via Skype.

Jaman died fighting with the rebel group ISIS, and Channel 4 News interviewed his brothers, who described him as a martyr.

Mashudur Choudhury's trial raised important questions about the definition of terrorism in a civil war like Syria. 

His barrister, Joel Bennathan QC, for Choudhury, told the jury they had to be certain that his client was involved in terrorism in Syria in order to convict him and added: "People in Portsmouth, people in the country nationally, might think that the regime in Syria is brutal and murderous...

"Some people might think that regardless of the technicality of the British law, that going to fight in Syria might be a good thing, people might think that going there is noble and unselfish."

Choudhury’s conviction will be seen as a victory for the security services, who have been criticised for their response to British Muslims travelling to Syria. Last month, the police revealed a new counter-terrorism strategy in which they urged family members, in particular women, to report relatives they suspect of wanting to travel to Syria to fight.

Police sources said they were tipped off from within the Muslim community in Portsmouth that Choudhury and four other men had left for Syria last October.

During his trial, the court heard that Choudhury lied to his wife about having cancer, saying he was going abroad to seek medical treatment. He borrowed more than £35,000 from relatives and spent the money on prostitutes and foreign holidays.

Follow Darshna Soni on Twitter: @darshnasoni