Peshmerga fighter radicalised in UK jailed for planning to join Islamic State
A former Peshmerga fighter radicalised in Britain after fleeing the bloodshed in Iraq has been jailed for planning to fight for his former Islamic State (IS) foes.
Shivan Azeez Zangana, 21, who uses the surname Azeez, was sent to the UK by his family to keep him safe after battling extremists with the Kurdish separatist group.
But after falling in with "a nest of rats" here, he was turned by a fellow Kurd, asylum-seeker Aras Hamid, 27, and agreed to change sides and go with him to fight for IS, Kingston Crown Court in London was told.
The two men were discovered by police sleeping at the Al Noor Mosque in Birmingham on May 17, days after several of Azeez's worried relatives had called 999 with concerns about what he was planning.
He had fled his Sheffield home and bought a plane ticket from Gatwick to Sulaymaniyah in northern Iraq. Extremist material was later discovered on an iPad and iPhone he tried to post to the war-torn country.
Azeez dramatically collapsed in the dock on Tuesday after being jailed for three years, but was able to leave unaided after a few minutes.
Moments earlier Judge Peter Lodder QC had told him: "I accept that you were radicalised by Hamid but the material retained on your electronic devices that you attempted to send unaided to Iraq reveals your own commitment.
"Having seen you in the witness box it is clear you are not particularly vulnerable."
While Azeez was arrested at the mosque, plan ringleader Hamid had items confiscated but was not detained.
He was discovered two days later hiding in a lorry on the A2 near Dover, Kent, while trying to smuggle himself out the UK. He also had a fake Bulgarian passport.
Hamid, who entered the UK illegally in September 2015, had arranged to travel to the war zone to fight for a Kurdish IS unit, the Salahaddin Battalion, documents found on his phone showed.
He used code names including "car wash" to mask their intentions and arranged covert meetings, including in a Coventry park and a cemetery.
Giving evidence in their trial last year, Hamid admitted he wanted to die a martyr's death and the jury heard that he exchanged messages with other extremists, telling one "we will die as martyrs in the holy land of the caliphate".
Jailing him for seven years, Judge Lodder told Hamid: "Terrorism strikes at the very heart of civilised society.
"By early April 2016 you had decided to return to the Kurdistan area of Iraq or Syria for terrorist purposes.
"You didn't intend to travel alone, an important part of your plan was to recruit and facilitate the smuggling of others who might support your cause."
Hamid, of no fixed address, and Azeez, of Washington Road in Sheffield, were both convicted of preparing acts of terrorism at a trial last year.
Hamid was also found guilty of assisting another in commission of terrorist acts and admitted a charge of possession of an identification document with improper intent.
Both he and Azeez were also ordered to serve an extended period of 12 months on licence at the end of their prison sentence.
A third man, Ahmed Ismail, 19, of Portwrinkle Avenue, Coventry, was convicted of failing to disclose information about acts of terrorism and jailed for 18 months.
The British citizen of Kurdish origin decided not to travel with the others because he had learned his brother Mohammed, an IS fighter, was due to be executed for spying and did not want to risk a similar fate.
Azeez's lawyer, Anthony Barraclough, told Tuesday's sentencing hearing: "In Birmingham and other parts of our country are terrorists who are part of a nest of rats.
"Azeez, whatever he intended by the jury's verdict, did ... fight on our side in the Peshmerga.
"It is said that Hamid is significantly responsible for the radicalisation of Azeez, whose vulnerability arises from being displaced ... from his position in the Peshmerga in Kurdistan.
"Here is a young man who is vulnerable and falls in the nest."
Naeem Miah, for Hamid, denied that he had radicalised Azeez, saying: "When the crown pray in aid this nonsensical, absurd suggestion that Hamid is a Rasputin-like figure that radicalised Azeez, you have to laugh."