Two men who left the UK to join the Syrian rebels in their fight against the Assad regime have been jailed for 12 years and eight months each.
Yusuf Sarwar and Mohammed Nahin Ahmed, both aged 22 and from Birmingham, were sentenced for engaging in conduct in preparation of terrorist acts.
The judge imposed an extended licence period of five years.
Ahmed’s family, who say they helped the police with the investigation, issued a statement saying: “We feel completely betrayed.”
They objected to the sentence as “too long” and said they would appeal against it.
“This sends out the wrong message to other families who might have concerns about their sons and daughters, and now might not come forward,” they said.
Ahmed’s family drew attention to the separate case of Mashudur Choudhury, who was jailed for similar offences for four years after pleading not guilty.
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Sentencing Ahmed and Sarwar earlier today, Judge Michael Topolski described the two men as “deeply committed to violent extremism”.
He said they had “willingly, enthusiastically and with a great deal of purpose, persistence and determination embarked on a course intended to commit acts of terrorism”.
The two men were arrested by West Midlands Police’s counter-terrorism unit at Heathrow Airport on their return to the UK in January.
Both men pleaded guilty to to terrorism charges at Woolwich Crown Court in London in July.
West Midlands Police said they were first alerted to the case when Sarwar’s parents reported him missing last year.
The two friends travelled to Syria in May 2013, where they are believed to have spent eight months with the Al Qaeda linked Jabhat al-Nusra.
Before leaving the UK, Sarwar faked documents to convince his family he was travelling to Turkey as part of a two-week trip organised by Birmingham City University, where he was a student.
Ahmed told his family he was going on holiday with Sarwar.
But Sarwar’s parents found a six-page letter in which their son admitted he had gone “to do jihad” in Syria.
He also left instructions to cancel his mobile phone contract and money to settle outstanding debts.
Prosecutor Brian Altman QC told the court at their plea hearing: “Sarwar was not expecting to return to his family and that is because he hoped to die as a martyr.”
Police said Ahmed, an unemployed former postal worker, had had “sought advice from a fighter in Syria and from extremists in Denmark and Sweden”.
A Danish man, calling himself Abu Usama al-Mujahid, had told him: “You can be a mujahid [fighter] wherever in the world you are. Look at 7/7 from your country.”
The men bought one-way tickets to Turkey then crossed the border to Syria.
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.
Det Ch Supt Sue Southern, who leads the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit, was involved in the case against Sarwar and Ahmed.
She said preventing people being recruited to terrorist groups online was a “significant challenge” and that her workload in this area “has increased five fold”.
Paying tribute to the men’s families for their role in the prosecution, she said she hoped the case would “give people the confidence to come forward, but to come forward sooner” if they suspect relatives of being radicalised.