TWO young British men have admitted spending eight months in Syria fighting alongside an al Qaida-linked terrorist group.
Childhood friends Mohammed Nahin Ahmed and Yusuf Zubair Sarwar, both 22 and from the Handsworth area of Birmingham, fled to the war-torn country last May after contacting Islamic extremists.
They returned in January only after their families put pressure on them to come home.
Officers from West Midlands Police’s counter-terrorism unit were waiting for them at Heathrow Airport, where they were arrested.
A trial due to start yesterday at London’s Woolwich Crown Court was abandoned when they each admitted one count of engaging in conduct in preparation of terrorism acts contrary to Section 5 of the Terrorism Act.
Sarwar’s family reported him missing to police in May last year after they found a hand-written letter from him revealing he had fled to Syria.
The letter addressed to his mother Majida Sarwar detailed his intention to “do jihad” by joining a terrorist group called Kataib al Muhajireen (KaM) – later renamed Kateeba al-Kawthar. The letter also contained money to pay off his debts and instructions to end his mobile phone contract.
In the weeks before leaving the UK he 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 part-time computer science student.
Prosecutor Brian Altman told the court: “Without the mother’s actions the police would not have been in a position to be waiting for the men on their return.”
Ahmed had told his family he was going on holiday with Sarwar.
In fact, the men had completed a carefully planned one-way trip to the Syrian battleground via Turkey, after researching and discussing jihad, martyrdom and the enemies of Islam, Mr Altman QC told the court.
In one text exchange Ahmed urged Sarwar not to kill any innocent people or commit suicide, the court heard.
A police search of the men’s homes while the pair were in Syria, revealed an online conversation between Ahmed and a Swedish national fighting with the KaM, during which Ahmed said he wanted to join the terrorist group.
Ahmed was told by another Danish Islamist extremist that jihadis could return to their home countries in the EU to carry out tasks.
Ahmed, who was born in Bangladesh, moved to Britain as a child, while Sarwar, who is of Pakistani descent, was born in Britain.
After their arrest the pair told police that they travelled to Syria for humanitarian reasons. However, officers found “thousands” of warzone-related images of the men with guns on a digital camera carried by the pair into the UK.
Specialists said the images showed they had been in and around Aleppo, the scene of ongoing fighting between Syrian government troops and rebels.
Judge Topolski QC said he would not pass sentence until a Court of Appeal decision about a similar case had been heard later this summer.
West Midlands Police Assistant Chief Constable Marcus Beale said: “These young men went to considerable lengths to hide their plans.”