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27 May 2015, 13:29
A fanatical young Muslim from Coventry has been jailed for six years for making determined efforts to join Islamic State in Syria to fulfil his ambition of becoming a martyr.
Zakariya Ashiq, 20, left the UK on November 6 last year on a bus from Victoria Station in London and made his way via Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Bulgaria to Jordan, his Old Bailey trial heard.
But when he failed to cross the border to reach his intended destination of Syria, he flew back to Heathrow where he was arrested on November 20.
In his defence, Ashiq, of Station Road, Coventry, admitted trying to get to Syria but claimed he had to leave the UK because he was being ``pestered'' by MI5 and ``tortured'' by unidentified shadowy figures.
But the jury at the Old Bailey took less than two hours on Tuesday to find him guilty on two counts of preparing acts of terrorism on or before November 6 last year.
In mitigation, his lawyer Paul Hynes QC described Ashiq as a Walter Mitty character whose evidence about being waterboarded displayed elements of a ``fantastical tale''.
But judge Charles Wide QC said even thought the defendant was just 19 at the time, he knew full well what ISIS was all about and had been intent on fighting for them
He said: ``He cannot have disapproved. He went to fight for them. He is extremely skillful at downplaying his true commitment. He is a fanatic, that's what he is.''
Handing him a further four years on extended licence, the judge said to Ashiq: ``You are very, very determined and your attitudes are very deeply ingrained so I am satisfied a further period of licence is required for the purpose of protecting the public from serious harm by you.''
The judge went on: ``You were not a child and any suggestion of naivety should not be overstated. You are highly intelligent and resourceful.
``You sustained a high degree of resolve over an extended period albeit in a criminal cause, and that cause was a cause you chose and it would not be right to see you as some kind of victim.''
Ashiq remained determined to fight for ISIS despite knowing it was responsible for beheading hostages, including British aid worker Alan Henning, he said.
The judge also highlighted his hostility towards the UK - the country of his birth and that of his parents - and the disregard he had shown for authorities that tried to help him through the anti-radicalisation organisation Prevent.
The court had heard about WhatsApp conversations Ashiq had with two friends who had gone to Syria before him last year.
In them, Ashiq described to Ali Kalantar and Mohammed Ismail hitch-hiking and sleeping in mosques during his journey across Europe to join them.
He appealed to them for help to get into Syria, saying the second he got the chance he would do ``Ishtishadi (martyrdom) against any ... all these people'', the jury was told.
In one message, he pleaded: ``Oh, seriously man, just get me there, man ... I don't know how you gonna get me, but you have to get me across.''
Ashiq's extremist sympathies were also exposed in other WhatsApp messages read out to the jury. In one he wrote: ``There is no life, there's no life without Jihad.''
He also spoke of his admiration for Islamic State using the online website Chat Roulette, the court heard.
And he searched on his computer for phrases such as ``IS beheading journalist'' and ``44 ways to support Jihad'' and Islamic preacher Anjem Choudary.
Prosecutor Sarah Whitehouse QC chronicled Ashiq's various alleged attempts to join IS during the course of last year.
He went to Turkey with his father in March last year, just days after Kalantar and Ismail flew out to Istanbul via Frankfurt.
During the trip, purportedly to visit refugee camps on the Syrian border, the pair fell out and Ashiq flew home on May 20.
Then, in July, he tried to go abroad again and told officers he was intending to go to Corfu and had not time for terrorists or their beliefs.
After his arrest at Heathrow Airport on November 20, Ashiq said he had no aspirations to join IS or become a terrorist, describing Ismail as ``an idiot''.
Giving evidence in the witness box, Ashiq said he repeatedly met MI5 operatives between July and November who ``harassed'' and ``pestered'' him to help them.
He also claimed to have been ``waterboarded'' on several occasions by men in balaclavas who bundled him into the back of a white van in Coventry.