A father of two from Portsmouth has become the first person to be convicted of terrorism charges related to the ongoing conflict in Syria.
Mashudur Choudhury, 31, was convicted today of engaging in conduct in preparation of terrorist acts.
The court heard he had travelled to Syria to attend a “terrorist training camp”. He was arrested at Gatwick Airport on his return to the UK.
Prosecutors at the trial at Kingston Crown Court said Choudhury had wanted to be trained in the use of firearms and intended to pursue a “political, religious or ideological cause”. The jury were also presented with his exchanges on social media, Skype and text messages, which the crown said proved he intended to go and join a terror training camp in Syria.
In one exchange, he said to his wife: “What good is a husband, father, brother that sits in comfort, sleeps in comfort, eats in comfort but neglects the cause of women being raped, children being attacked, mothers being decapitated, and daughters being murdered?”
The judge, Mr Justice Dodgson, warned him he faced a substantial custodial sentence and adjourned the case for probation reports and will be sentenced on 13 June.
Choudary is one of at least five men from Portsmouth who travelled to Syria last October with the alleged intention of joining Al-Qaeda-linked rebel groups fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
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, including Ifthekar Jaman who died in battle fighting with the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS), and later became a celebrated personality on social media.
“Victory” for counter-terrorism police
Choudary’s conviction will be seen as a victory for the police’s counter-terrorism strategy of trying to persuade family and friends to come forward if they suspect an individual is intending to join the fight against the Assad regime.
Assistant chief constable Brendan O’Dowda, who heads up the south-east counter terrorism unit, welcomed the verdict: “Today’s conviction sends out strong message to anyone considering engaging in terrorist activity, be that in the UK or overseas, that we will pursue you and your networks.
“The ongoing conflict in Syria is terrible for us all to see. Great sympathy is felt for those victims of that conflict. If anyone has a genuine desire to help then they are encouraged to offer aid and support by donating through charities supporting the relief operation.
“Syria is a very dangerous place – best described as a cocktail of high risk and threat. Anyone thinking of travelling to fight ‘Jihad’ against the Assad regime, think again. You are likely to be killed or kidnapped and if you return to the UK you are highly likely to be arrested.
“We hope that this case offers reassurance that we will work tirelessly to identify and tackle the threat posed from terrorism. The safety and security of all our communities across the UK is paramount.”
Prosecutor Alison Morgan told the jury they did not have to make a decision about the rights and wrongs of what was going on in Syria in order to convict Choudhury.
“The prosecution’s case against this defendant is that he was travelling to Syria to train to fight in pursuit of an ideological or religious cause. You are not being asked to determine who is right and who is at fault in Syria.”
Portsmouth district commander, Supt Ali Heydari said: “This is a unique case for Portsmouth and in fact Hampshire and the Isle of Wight as a whole. We have very good relationships with key figures within the city and work with them to share information. We all have a common aim to prevent radicalisation in all forms.
“In this case we received information from the community which was acted on and led to today’s result. We would like to thank Portsmouth residents for continuing to report anything they are concerned about to us.”
Police and the security services estimate that between 400 and 500 men from Britain have travelled to Syria and either returned or remain there. Choudhury’s trial was the first of many upcoming prosecutions of British men – and two young women – for Syria-related terrorism offences.
The Foreign Secretary William Hague has reiterated warnings to British citizens not to travel to Syria and said fighters returning to the UK were an “increasing threat to our own national security”.
“Where we are aware of people proposing to travel to Syria we can take action about it, including depriving people of their passports, including if they are people who are resident in the UK but not British nationals, the Home Secretary can cancel their leave to remain in the UK,” he said.