On Friday, two British men were sentenced to 12 years and 8 months in prison for going to Syria to fight against the Assad regime.
Nahin Ahmed and Yusuf Sarwar — also give a five-year “license period” after their prison terms expire — were punished for “engaging in preparation of terrorism acts”, after they pled guilty in July. They had gone to Syria in May 2013, fighting with an insurgent faction until January.
However, the supposed evidence of “terrorism” raises questions about the case — I explained why to BBC Coventry and Warwickshire on Friday afternoon:
Ahmed and Sarwar joined the foreign fighters of Kataib al-Muhajireen, which later became part of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar. Contrary to British media headlines, neither group is linked to Al Qa’eda, although both — like many Syrian factions — have fought on frontlines alongside the Islamist faction Jabhat al-Nusra.
When the two men pled guilty, British authorities claimed “thousands of photos” proved their guilt over terrorism, but the posted images merely showed them holding rifles. On Friday, the claim was added that “traces of military-grade explosives, including TNT and nitroglycerine, were also found on their clothes and trainers”.
The two men were sentenced amid a high-profile campaign by the British Government to keep Britons from going to Syria to fight, including an appeal to Muslim mothers to hold back their sons.
The judge hailed the case as an example of that responsible behavior — Sarwar’s family had reported him missing after discovering a letter in which he said he was joining Kataib al-Muhajireen.
The length of these sentences do not match the facts of the case, as they are being reported, as much as a mood — a political mood — that Britons must not fight in Syria.