British 'severed heads' extremist jailed for 12 years

An undated handout picture received from the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) on Feb 6, 2015, shows the custody photograph of Imran Khawaja. -- PHOTO: AFP
An undated handout picture received from the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) on Feb 6, 2015, shows the custody photograph of Imran Khawaja. -- PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (Reuters) - A Briton who helped a militant group linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) record videos of severed heads and then faked his own death in the hope of being able to return home undetected was sentenced to 12 years in jail on Friday.

Imran Khawaja, 27, of Southall, west London, travelled to a training camp in Syria in January last year and joined Rayat al Tawheed, which became aligned with ISIS, prosecutors had said.

The group began posting violent propaganda online in an attempt to persuade others to come out and join them.

"Khawaja was seen in a disturbing video posted on social media which includes a bag of severed heads," a police statement said after Friday's sentencing at Woolwich Crown Court. "He appears in the footage with his face covered picking up one of the heads from the bag and showing it to the camera."

In May 2014, the group put out a message on social media claiming that he had been killed, alongside an image of two masked men holding a flag associated with ISIS. "Khawaja ... faked his own death in order to conceal his entry back into the UK," said Commander Richard Walton, head of the SO15 Counter Terrorism Command.

But Khawaja and his cousin Tahir Bhatti were arrested last June at the southeastern port of Dover.

"Imran Khawaja's actions are one of the most appalling examples of violent extremism that I have seen committed by British jihadis returning from Syria," said Deborah Walsh, Deputy Head of Counter Terrorism at the Crown Prosecution Service.

"Photos and videos of Khawaja posing with child soldiers and severed heads defy the understanding of civilised people and paint a picture of a man who would stop at nothing to spread terror and hatred," she added in a statement.

Khawaja had admitted preparing to commit terrorist acts, receiving training in the use of firearms and attending a place for terrorist training.

Bhatti, 45, of Watford, north of London, pleaded guilty to helping him and was sentenced to 21 months in jail.

Asim Ali, 33, who had admitted providing money to Khawaja, was also sentenced to 21 months.