British man who fought against IS guilty of terrorism charge
A British man who fought with a Kurdish militia against the Islamic State group has been found guilty of attending a terrorist training camp.
Aidan James, 28, of Formby, Merseyside, had no previous military knowledge when he set out for Syria in 2017.
He denied terror offences but was found guilty at a retrial at the Old Bailey of attending a camp in Iraq where the banned PKK group was present.
James was cleared of attending a terrorist training camp in Syria.
Jurors reached unanimous verdicts after just over a day of deliberations.
Mr Justice Edis said the verdicts made it plain the defendant's conduct was "not intended to promote any acts of terrorism by him".
He told James: "I regard this as a highly unusual terrorist case."
He said James' involvement with the PKK was "quite fleeting", adding "it was something that happened on his voyage, but the ultimate destination was elsewhere".
'Make a difference'
James, an unsuccessful applicant to the British Army, grew up in Merseyside and is the first Briton who fought against IS to stand trial for such offences.
The prosecution case was that his intention to fight IS, and his actions in doing so, did not amount to terrorism, but that he had been present in camps where training took place for a wider ideological cause.
He kept a diary prior to and during his time in the Middle East, the Old Bailey heard.
In April 2017, he wrote: "At least over there I can make a difference, I can do something to be proud of instead of constantly feeling worthless."
After revealing his plans online he received a visit from the government de-radicalisation scheme Prevent and a warning against travelling to Syria, the court heard.
Within days he was arrested on suspicion of preparing for terrorism, but no charges followed and his passport was eventually handed back.
The jury was told he confided to his diary: "I'm still planning to go away to Syria/Iraq… to fight this most important of battles against the sick ideology of [IS]."
In August 2017, after a period in a mental health facility, he flew to Iraq and sent a message home saying: "Landed safe mum."
He spent time at an Iraqi refugee camp where the PKK was present, and later at a Syrian YPG training facility.
The jury heard his journal recorded various interactions with the PKK, which he wrote about in positive terms, but it was after undergoing combat training with the YPG that he joined the fight against IS.
By the end of 2017 he decided to return to the UK.
In email correspondence with a police officer from Merseyside Police's Prevent team, the court heard James wrote: "I am not coming back to be getting accused of terrorism."
The officer replied: "Nobody is saying that you are a terrorist and there are loads of people like you who have come back from Syria and to the best of my knowledge none of them have been charged."
However, he was arrested on arrival at Liverpool airport in February 2018 and charged with terror offences the following day.
James was remanded in custody until sentencing on 7 November.