British jihadi got taxi home from Syria

Imran Khawaja, 27, went to a Syria terrorist training camp
Imran Khawaja, 27, went to a Syria terrorist training camp
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A BRITISH jihadist who spent six months in Syria and faked his death in an attempt to return to the UK undetected has admitted four terrorism offences.

Imran Khawaja, formerly of London, spent his time in the war-torn country last year training in a terrorist camp, and was pictured holding the severed head of a man.

While there, the 27-year-old 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 Abu Daigham al Baritani, and Bhatti were arrested in June last year as they reached the UK port of Dover.

At a previous hearing, prosecutor Mark Dawson said 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.

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The court was shown three photos 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 distinctive tassled hat and clothing in a number of postings by a terrorist group. The last photo showed the defendant at a training camp with an assault rifle.

By June last year, Bhatti had convinced his cousin to return to the UK, saying his parents were not well.

Defending, Joel Bennathan QC 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 codewords 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. The “club” meant a camp. The “doormen” were those running it. “Puke” related to battlefield material – he needed new clothes.

The court had heard another feature of the case was the use of a communications app called Telegram – an encrypted system.

At an Old Bailey hearing last month, Khawaja admitted preparation of terrorist acts and attending a terrorism training camp.

He also admitted receiving weapons training and possessing a firearm for terrorist use.

His pleas can only now be reported since his co-defendants admitted terror charges.

In December last year, Asim Ali, 33, from London, pleaded guilty to making £300 available to Khawaja while having reason to suspect it might be used for the purposes of terrorism.

Father-of-four Bhatti, 44, yesterday pleaded guilty to assisting an offender.

Mr Justice Baker granted Bhatti conditional bail ahead of sentencing for all the defendants next month.

Khawaja is expected to receive a lengthy prison sentence for his activities while his co-defendants are also likely to face jail.

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