A Muslim student has been jailed for three and a half years after being found guilty of planning to join rebel forces in Syria.
A court convicted David Souaan, 20, in December of preparing for terrorist acts in the turbulent country following a trial at the Old Bailey, after footage appeared to show him calling for the “ISIS flag” to be flown above Downing Street, and he was pictured with guns in photos seized by police.
The Birckbeck College student visited Syria in December 2013, and was attempting to return on 31 May last year when police arrested him at Heathrow Airport.
Souaan, whose family in Serbia are wealthy, denied the charge and insisted he had visited his father’s home town of Deir ez-Zor to collect his grandfather’s belongings, after he was forced to flee to Turkey with just the clothes on his back.
He added he posed for pictures with guns because he wanted to look “cool”, and insisted that, while he was in the town held by the Free Syrian Army, he never had a weapon.
The trial heard that Souaan, the son of a Serbian Christian mother and Syrian Muslim father, grew up in his mother’s country but had close family ties to Syria and had adopted his father’s religion.
He came to the UK in 2013 on a three-year visa to study global politics and international relations at Birkbeck College in London, living in halls of residence in Malet Street.
Subscribe to our newsletter and stay updated on the latest news and updates from around the Muslim world!
Earlier in mitigation, Souaan’s lawyer, Ali Bajwa QC, called for leniency. He argued his emotional immaturity and naivety was compounded by the “loneliness and isolation” he felt as a foreign student in London, where his family were unable to support him.
Mr Bajwa continued that Souaan was personally affected by two civil wars, in the Balkans at the age of five, and in Syria as a 16-year-old.
Various members of Souaan’s extended Syrian family had been ”dislocated, exiled, disappeared, raped, tortured or killed“ during the conflict, Mr Bajwa added.
Souaan was arrested after fellow student fellow students became worried by his radical views on Islam, and he showed off photos of himself posing with guns in Syria.
When police seized his laptop and phone, they discovered pictures, videos – including one too graphic to play in court – and documents which revealed his “extremist sympathies” and that he had not only been fighting in Syria before but was intending to return, the Old Bailey heard.
The court heard that Souaan filmed himself attending a demonstration in the UK, and a man believed to be the student could be heard saying that he wanted the black flag used by Isis to fly over Downing Street.
As he sentenced Souaan, Judge Peter Rook told the student that while his case was at the lower end of the scale, it was still serious.
He added that the student’s age and immaturity meant he had been ”vulnerable to extremist views“ to which he was exposed after he left home for London.
Souaan’s praise for Isis, which has captured swathes of Iraq and Syria over the summer of 2014, came at a time before the true character of the organisation was known.