Jihadi admits terrorist offences
A British jihadist who was declared dead as he returned home from Syria faces years behind bars after admitting a string of terrorism offences, it can now be reported.
Imran Khawaja, formerly of Southall, London, spent six months in the war-torn country last year, training in a terrorist training camp and was even pictured holding the severed head of a man.
While there, the 27-year-old had asked his taxi driver cousin Tahir Bhatti to go cross country to Bulgaria to pick him up and drive him home, avoiding the well-worn jihadist route via flights to and from Turkey.
As he was en route to the UK, Khawaja was widely reported to have died on the battlefield in Syria after the terrorist group Rayat al-Tawheed falsely announced his death.
Khawaja, who went by the nomme de guerre of Abu Daigham al Baritani, and Bhatti were arrested by police on June 3 last year as they reached the UK port of Dover in Kent.
At a previous hearing, prosecutor Mark Dawson said that by the March 18 last year, Bhatti, who was referred to in a coded message as 'butterbean', was well aware Khawaja was in Syria and that he was clearly training with a view to fighting in Syria.
The court was shown three photographs from Khawaja's phone that allegedly reflected what Bhatti knew about his activities.
The first showed Khawaja in battlefield clothes and a balaclava sitting on a tank with a rifle.
Another showed him with a child sporting a very distinctive tassled hat - the same hat and clothing worn in a number of postings by a terrorist group.
The last photo showed the defendant at a training camp with an assault rifle, the court heard.
By June last year, Bhatti had convinced his cousin to return to the UK saying his parents were not well and he should come home.
Defending, Joel Bennathan QC had argued: "He was doing what Muslim families are meant to do - tell them to desist and come out of Syria."
But Mr Dawson said the "road trip" was carefully orchestrated with the use of code words in messages.
There was talk of being "in a club"and needing "clothes" because of the "puke" and that a "doorman" was not letting him out.
"Mr Bhatti does not bat an eyelid at this terminology. It is known and understood," said Mr Dawson.
The "club" meant a camp. The "doormen" were those running it. "Puke" related to battlefield material - he needed new clothes.
The court had heard that another feature of the case was the use of a communications app called Telegram - a secured and encrypted system that could not be intercepted.
At an Old Bailey hearing last month, Khawaja admitted preparation of terrorist acts on or before January 26 last year as well as attending a terrorism training camp between January and June 4 last year.
He also admitted receiving weapons training and possessing a firearm for terrorist use.
But he denied a charge of soliciting murder between January 25 last year and June 4 last year with and against people unknown.
His pleas can only now be reported since his co-defendants, admitted terror charges and the prosecution decided not to pursue a trial.
On December 23 last year, Asim Ali, 33, from Ealing, west London pleaded guilty to making £300 available to Khawaja while knowing or having reason to suspect it might be used for the purposes of terrorism.
But he denied another charge of preparing a terrorist act between January and June 2014.
Father-of-four Bhatti, 44, of no fixed abode, who is of Pakistani origin, today pleaded guilty assisting an offender. He has previously pleaded not guilty to preparing a terrorist act by helping Khawaja; having information about terrorism; and assisting an offender.
Mr Justice Baker ordered the outstanding charges be left on file and granted Bhatti conditional bail ahead of sentencing for all the defendants on February 5 and 6.
Khawaja is expected to receive a lengthy prison sentence for his activities in Syria while his co-defendants are likely to also face jail terms.