British jihadi faces prison after admitting terrorism acts
LONDON (AP) — A British jihadi who faked his own death in an apparent bid to make it easier to return to England unnoticed faces prison after pleading guilty to terrorism offenses.
Imran Khawaja was arrested when he tried to return to Britain last year after attending a terrorist training camp in Syria and being photographed holding a man’s severed head.
His guilty plea at the Old Bailey courthouse last month could not be reported until Tuesday when reporting restrictions were lifted. He had admitted preparation of terrorist acts, attending a terrorism training camp, receiving weapons training and possessing a firearm for terrorism use.
The court was shown a smartphone photograph of Khawaja, 27, in combat gear and a balaclava sitting on a tank with a rifle, and other incriminating photographs of his time in Syria, including one that showed him at a training camp carrying an assault rifle.
Commander Richard Walton, head of a special operations police counter-terrorism unit, said Khawaja was a senior figure in the Rayat Al Taweek terrorist group, which used social media extensively and is aligned with the Islamic State extremists.
“Khawaja chose to become a terrorist, engaged in weapons training in a terrorist training camp and faked his own death in order to conceal his entry back into the UK,” Walton said. “He posed a serious threat to this country.”
Khawaja, from Southall, west London, had asked his taxi-driver cousin Tahir Bhatti, 44, to pick him up in Bulgaria and bring him back to Britain by car.
Testimony indicated that Bhatti had convinced his cousin to leave Syria, in part by telling him that his parents were in poor health.
While they were driving, his death on the battlefield was falsely announced by associates in Syria.
Evidence indicated that he used an encrypted communications app and also relied on code words to communicate. The word “club” referred to a training camp, “doormen” referred to the people running it, and “puke” was used to describe material needed for battlefield action.
Khawaja and Bhatti were arrested in June last year entering Britain at the port of Dover.
His cousin pleaded guilty Tuesday to assisting an offender and was granted bail. They will be sentenced next month.
A third man, 33-year-old Asim Ali, had also earlier pleaded guilty to providing Khawaja with money likely to be used for terrorism.