Terrorism trial collapses after security services refuse to give evidence

Another terrorism trial has collapsed after the British security services seemingly refused to implicate themselves in supplying weapons to Syrian rebels fighting Bashar al Assad.

Bherlin Gildo was due to stand trial at London’s Old Bailey accused of attending a “terrorist training camp” between 2012 and 2013 and possessing information likely to be “useful to a terrorist.”

But in a case which seems to mirror that of the aborted Moazzam Begg trial last year, the case against Gildo was dropped and he was cleared of the charges after a wrangle between lawyers and the British and Swedish security services.

The Daily Mail reported that Gildo once posed with weaponry and dead bodies as he became a notorious “propagandist for rebel groups.” But the court heard that the Swedish security services helped him return to his home country after he turned his back on them.

Gildo, 37, has been held in custody since his arrest as he passed through Heathrow airport in October last year.

Have the security services been supplying weapons to rebels in Syria?
Have the security services been supplying weapons to rebels in Syria?

As well as attending a “terror training camp,” the 37-year-old was also said to have possessed information useful for terrorism, with material named “Ultimate Guide to USA Army Combat,” “39 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad” and “44 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad” contained on a laptop.

But Henry Blaxland QC, defending Gildo, told the court it would have been an “affront to justice” to press ahead with the case because, he claimed, the British government was supporting the rebels Gildo was alleged to have fought alongside.

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“If it is the case that HM government was actively involved in supporting armed resistance to the Assad regime at a time when the defendant was present in Syria and himself participating in such resistance it would be unconscionable to allow the prosecution to continue.

“There is broad discretion about what cases should be prosecuted and whether they are prosecuting an act of terrorism involving the use of force.

“If government agencies are themselves involved in the use of force, in whatever way, it is our submission that would be an affront to justice to allow the prosecution to continue.”

Mr Blaxland added: “The crown’s disclosure seems to accept that it has been involved in supporting the resistance through logistical support.”

He said the defence was seeking the disclosure of information from the security services about the supply of weapons, directly or indirectly.

Syrian rebels

Gildo, who was accused of attending a terror training camp, returned to his native Sweden in 2013 with the help of the country’s security services. They did not answer eight of nine questions posed to them by lawyers

Riel Karmy Jones QC, prosecuting, said that following a “full review” the prosecution considered there was “no longer a reasonable prospect of conviction in this case.”

The Recorder of London Nicholas Hilliard QC formally entered not guilty verdicts on all three of the charges.

Gildo, who appeared via video link from top security Belmarsh prison wearing a black fleece and red trousers, was arrested at Heathrow at 5pm on the evening of Saturday September 27 when he was travelling from Copenhagen to Manila via Heathrow and Hong Kong.

A rebel fighter in Syria
A rebel fighter in Syria

The prosecution’s own expert witness, Dr Wilkinson, said the Free Syrian Army had been “supported physically and with arms by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United States.”

“Given the United States and Britain are close allies it is reasonable to examine whether the British government, through the intelligence services, were involved in supplying arms to the rebels,” Mr Blaxland said.

‘The government appears to have been involved in a secretive international operation, providing the opposition in Syria with arms on a massive scale,” he added.

Even if that was not the case, the government accepted that it provided logistical support and non-lethal assistance through the supreme military council of the FSA and to what the government called the “official opposition,” he said.

“The person who provides logistical support would be as guilty as the person who provides arms,” he said.

“It would be hypocritical to distinguish between the FSA on the front line firing guns and those who provided the assistance which allows them to fire those guns.”

The type of non-lethal aid was outlined in a statement to parliament by the Foreign Secretary on May 20 2013, which listed items including ballistic body armour, solar generators, computers and satellite phones.

Gildo was flying to the Philippines to re-join his wife, who is Filipino, after a period of working in Sweden. His name appeared on a British Airways manifest which attracted the attention of the security services.

Riel Karmy-Jones, prosecuting, said that “on the face of the evidence, the defendant has committed grave crimes.”

He had admitted to going to Syria in search of a group to join and engaging in activity involving weapons. The group he had joined, Kataib al-Muhajireen, had gone on to work with Jabhat al-Nusra, a “proscribed group considered to be al-Qaeda in Syria.”

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