Jidahi Student Jailed
3 February 2015, 19:17
A radical Muslim student from London who wanted to fly the Islamic State flag over Downing Street's been jailed for three and a half years.
David Souaan, 20, was found guilty in December 2014 of planning to join rebel forces in Syria. He was convicted of preparing for terrorist acts in the war-torn country following a trial at the Old Bailey.
The prosecution said he had visited Syria in December 2013 and was on his way back to fight when he was arrested at Heathrow Airport on 31 May 2014.
The Birkbeck College student, who comes from a wealthy family in Serbia, denied the charge and insisted his earlier visit to Syria was to collect his grandfather's belongings.
But the jury took nine hours to find him guilty of the terror charge.
Sentencing him to be detained in a young offenders institution, Judge Peter Rook told Souaan his case was at the lower end of the scale but nevertheless serious.
He told the student that due to his age and immaturity he had been "vulnerable to extremist views" to which he was exposed after he left home for London.
He added that his praise for Islamic State came at a time before the organisation's true character was known.
Earlier in mitigation, Souaan's lawyer, Ali Bajwa QC, called for leniency.
He said the defendant was an "emotionally immature and naive" young man who was vulnerable because of the "loneliness and isolation" he felt as a foreign student in London, away from the support of his family.
He also had the misfortune of being personally affected by two civil wars - in the Balkans when he was just five years old and in Syria from the age of 16.
Mr Bajwa said various members of Souaan's Syrian extended family had been "dislocated, exiled, disappeared, raped, tortured or killed" during the conflict and he had been emotionally affected by that.
The trial heard that Souaan, the son of a Serbian Christian mother and Syrian Muslim father, grew up in his mother's country but had close family ties to Syria and had adopted his father's religion.
He came to the UK in 2013 on a three-year visa to study global politics and international relations at Birkbeck College in London, living in halls of residence in Malet Street.
He was arrested after fellow students became concerned at his radical views on Islam and he showed off pictures of himself posing with guns in Syria.
Police seized his laptop and phone and found pictures, videos and documents revealing his "extremist sympathies" and that he had not only been fighting in Syria before but was intending to return, the Old Bailey heard.
Prosecutor Sarah Whitehouse QC said one video clip on his phone was "so graphic and so shocking" that it could not be played in court.
It featured a young-looking man kneeling with his head held back as another man cut his throat.
The court heard that Souaan filmed himself attending a demonstration in the UK.
Mrs Whitehouse said that a man - probably Souaan - could be heard in the background saying: "The flag of Tawheed in London, all praise be to Allah the lord of the universe," in reference to the wish of Muslim extremists to see the black flag fly over Downing Street.
In his defence, Souaan told jurors he had accompanied his father to his home town of Deir ez-Zor in Syria for two nights in December 2013.
He said he went to help retrieve his 82-year-old grandfather's belongings after he fled to Turkey with just the clothes on his back.
He posed for pictures with guns because he wanted to look "cool", he said.
"At the time when I was there I felt something like I wanted some trophy - the photos. As the teenagers say nowadays, it looks 'cool'. So that was the reason."
Souaan, whose father made a fortune in the construction business in Serbia, insisted that, while he was in the town held by the Free Syrian Army, he never had a weapon.
Souaan had told jurors he had been lonely in London after arriving for his first term of university on October 6 2013.
The court heard he kept in contact by text with his Christian Serbian girlfriend who had gone to Miami to study.
She called him by his pet name "little panda" and he told her he loved his "little sweetie... more than anything in the world".
Before he was sentenced, Souaan, who was said by the judge to be particularly close to his mother, blew kisses from the dock to family members in the public gallery of the Old Bailey courtroom.
:: In December, childhood friends Mohammed Ahmed and Yusuf Sarwar, both 22, from Birmingham, were jailed for 12 years and eight months for travelling to Syria to join an al Qaida-linked terrorist group.
They were sentenced at Woolwich Crown Court after pleading guilty to one count of engaging in conduct in preparation of terrorism acts contrary to Section 5 of the Terrorism Act.