Trial proceedings of an alleged anti-Assad jihadist were spectacularly halted yesterday at the Old Bailey in London after it was admitted that the British Government and its Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) had also been supporting/aiding anti-Assad militias, such as the Free Syrian Army. Clearly, had the trial been allowed to go ahead British intelligence (and possibly US intelligence too) would have been compromised. Also, there are implications – in particular, for anyone accused of supporting militias that have also been, or are, supported by the British Government. The outcome could also affect British foreign policy and future activities of British intelligence. There are also possible consequences for any ‘in-transit’ arrests. Details below…
The hearing at London’s Old Bailey concerned a Swedish national, Bherlin Gildo, who was arrested last October in-transit at Heathrow on his way from Copenhagen to Manila. He was detained under schedule 7 of the 2000 Terrorism Act, which aims to prevent individuals who may be involved in the “commission, instigation or preparation of acts of terrorism” from entering the UK.
Gildo was subsequently accused of attending a terrorist training camp and of receiving weapons training between 31 August 2012 and 1 March 2013; also, possessing information likely to be useful to a terrorist. Authorities also claimed that Gildo had recorded three electronic magazines: “Ultimate Guide to USA Army Combat”, “39 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad”, and “44 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad” on his laptop he had with him. Gildo later claimed he had sought help to leave Turkey for Sweden from SWAPO (Sweden’s equivalent of MI6) after he had decided he was no longer interested in jihad.
Trial proceedings halted:
At Monday’s hearing the Crown prosecution requested that the trial proceedings be halted given that evidence had come to light indicating prosecution was no longer viable. At an earlier hearing defence had argued that Gildo should not be prosecuted because the British Government, including MI6, had assisted anti-Assad militias similar to the one Gildo was accused of aiding.
Defence had also pointed out that, according to an article by Seymour Hersch, MI6 (together with the CIA, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey) had been involved in organising a ‘rat line’ op to provide weapons from Libya to anti-Assad rebels in Syria. According to a statement made to Parliament by Foreign Secretary William Hague, only non-lethal supplies had been provided, including ballistic body armour, solar generators, computers and satellite phones.
Henry Blaxland, the defence counsel, said: “If it is the case that HM government was actively involved in supporting armed resistance to the Assad regime at a time when the defendant was present in Syria and himself participating in such resistance it would be unconscionable to allow the prosecution to continue.”
Defence also made it clear that what Gildo had been charged with was not an offence in Sweden and that Gildo had not entered the UK of his own volition but had been ‘abducted’ by British authorities.
Gareth Pierce, Gildo’s solicitor, commented: “Given that there is a reasonable basis for believing that the British were themselves involved in the supply of arms, if that’s so, it would be an utter hypocrisy to prosecute someone who has been involved in the armed resistance.”
In proposing that the trial not proceed, prosecution, acting on behalf of the Government, basically conceded what has already been widely suspected for some time: that the Free Syrian Army (and possibly other anti-Assad militias) was secretly armed by the West.
Significantly a ‘not guilty’ verdict against Gildo was recorded.
Nevertheless, prosecution had accused Gildo of supporting Jabhat al-Nusra, which is widely understood to be an affiliate of al-Qaeda. This was also alleged in an archived (June 2014) item in LiveLeak, which additionally claimed that Gildo was affiliated to Kataib Al-Muhajireen, a predecessor of ISIS, was under the command of the former head of Kataib Al-Muhajireen (Immigrants Brigade) and later joined with Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (Army of Emigrants and Supporters), headed by Chechen, Abu Omar al-Shishani. LiveLeak based this on a radio interview with Gildo in Sweden (which appears to be no longer available).
There are three important implications stemming from the closure of these trial proceedings…
- Consequences for MI6 and British Government foreign policy in covert operations and how such ops might impact on arrests of jihadists or guerrillas.
- The arrest of persons travelling via a UK airport, but who are not intending to enter the UK (and possible appeals re past cases)
- The arrest of persons supporting anti-Assad or anti-ISIS militias (and possible appeals for mis-trials re convictions)
1. As well as support for anti-ISIS and anti-Assad militias, MI6 was instrumental in sabotaging the opposition forces to Gaddafi during the period when Blair was courting the Libyan leader. Such activities will no doubt continue, though arrests of persons who support militias that were supported by MI6 or the British Government as a whole may now be unlikely after the Gildo case.
2. An example is the David Miranda case: he was the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald and was also arrested under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act when in-transit at Heathrow on his way home to Brazil. His belongings – including a laptop, mobile phone, two memory sticks, a pair of DVDs, a Sony video game console and a hard drive – were seized and examined. Miranda had no intention of entering Britain but was merely changing planes. He was not charged with any offence. It was cogently argued that his detention (for nine hours) was not about terrorism but journalism. In May 2014 was given permission to appeal. The Gildo case may mean that similar searches/arrests under Section 7 are curtailed.
3. A case that springs to mind here is that of Shilan Ozcelik, the British woman who was arrested and charged with aiding militias fighting ISIS. The militias were Kurdish and the defendant argued she had simply intended to offer aid to the YPJ, the Kurdish women’s militia arm that helped liberate the city of Kobani from ISIS. At the time Western media had hailed the efforts of these Kurdish militias (YPJ and YPG) as heroic. Both militia groups had also been responsible for rescuing the Yazidis from Mount Sinjar (another episode Western media trumpeted as heroic). It is understood that Ms. Ozcelik is currently held in HM Prison Holloway awaiting trial. Again, after the Gildo case, arrests of persons supporting militias that the British Government overtly or tacitly or covertly support may be unlikely.
Finally… let’s not forget that a few days ago the award-winning journalist Nafeez Ahmed published an article on how he believed the CIA had been secretly funding and arming anti-Assad forces, that in turn probably gave rise to ISIS. He based his assertion on a (heavily redacted) leaked DIA document.