A British jihadist identified by police as a “trained terrorist” who is believed to have faked his own death while fighting in Syria in an attempt to return home undetected, has admitted terror charges. Imran Khawaja, 27, admitted preparing for acts of terrorism, attending a training camp and possessing firearms in a hearing last year, but reporting restrictions were in place until Tuesday.
Khawaja, from Southall in west London, spent the first half of last year fighting alongside jihadists in Syria’s civil war and at one point posted an image of himself holding a severed human head on social media. He left from Heathrow Airport in January last year, travelling to a training camp in Syria.
Once there, he joined Rayat Al-Tawheed (Banner of God) -- a group which became aligned with the Islamic State group, according to Britain’s Metropolitan Police. “Khawaja is also seen in a disturbing video posted on social media which includes a bag of severed heads,” said the Scotland Yard statement.
“The description posted with the video is ‘British ISIS fighter Abu Daigham al-Britani with government soldier’s head’.” He also appeared in one of the group’s promotional videos, ‘Five Star Jihad’, which portrays daily life at the training camp. The militant group falsely announced on social media that he was later killed on the battlefield.
Police believe the reports were part of a plan to throw authorities off his trail. “In May 2014, the group put out a message on social media, designed to deliberately mislead authorities, claiming that Abu Daigham al-Britani had been killed alongside an image of two masked men holding a flag associated with Islamic State,” said Scotland Yard.
In reality, he was making his way to Bulgaria, where he had asked his cousin Tahir Bhatti, 44, to pick him up. Details of the case were not made public until his cousin’s pleas were heard in court.
The pair were arrested on June 3 last year as they reached the port of Dover in southern England. “He was a senior figure in Rayat Al-Tawheed, a group aligned to Islamic State that celebrated its terrorist acts through social media back to the UK,” Richard Walton, head of the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command, said on Tuesday.
“This is a man who has chosen the path of terrorism. We don’t know why he came back. We don’t know what he was planning.” Bhatti, a taxi driver from near London, on Tuesday pleaded guilty to assisting an offender, but previously pleaded not guilty to preparing a terrorist act.
A third man, Asim Ali, pleaded guilty to entering into a funding arrangement for the purposes of terrorism after making £300 ($455, 394 euros) available to Khawaja. All three face sentencing on February 5 and 6, with Khawaja facing a lengthy jail term, possibly a life sentence.