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Manchester Evening News
Manchester Evening News
Nicole Wootton-Cane

Pair convicted of terror offences handed community orders after 'powerful mitigation'

Two men who 'encouraged terrorism' through posts on Instagram while they were teenagers have walked free from court following what a Judge called 'powerful mitigation'.

Luqmaan Ahmed and Kashif Riaz published posts including 'distressing' images of child war victims in Syria on an account called 'thefightersofthetruth' and 'supporterofmujahideen' in 2018, and sent 'propaganda' videos made by 'armed militia' opposing the Assad regime between each other and to two other individuals. The court heard how the men, who were 16 and in Year 10 at the time, had become interested in the war in Syria following the Manchester Arena attack in 2017.

The pair walked free after Judge Field KC handed them community orders on December 2 at Manchester Crown Court. The court heard how they had an 'adolescent fantasy' of helping solve problems in Syria, and had 'no understanding' of the influence of their posts on others.

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Prosecuting, Mr Alex du Sautoy said the teens had posted statements on an Instagram account between that were 'likely to be understood' as 'direct or indirect encouragement to the commission, preparation, or instigation of acts of terrorism' and of actions that 'endangered life'. He also outlined how the pair also sent videos to each other and another friend via Whatsapp that were described by prosecutors as 'terrorist publication'.

He said there was 'no question' of both defendant's young age at the time of the offences, but argued they had both intended to travel to Syria, and that 'that intention was in their mind when posting on Instagram'.

They were both arrested on March 17, 2018, but were sentenced on Friday (December 2) following guilty verdicts, in what Judge Field called a 'remarkable' delay in proceedings. Judge Field said he had seen the pair 'grow up', and that they were 'not the same boys' who had initially come before his court.

Defending, Ms Janine Brimelow said Ahmed had an 'adolescent fantasy' of being a 'hero' who could help 'sort out' the problems in Syria. She said his interest in the issue had started after the Manchester Arena terror attack in May 2017, and he had posted and shared the content, including videos of 'armed militia' Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), over a period of three weeks in order to 'process' and 'understand' it. The court heard how Ahmed believed HTS were the 'good guys' because they were fighting ISIS.

"These posts were seeing the war through a child's eyes," Ms Brimelow said. She told the court there had been 'no issues' since the offence nearly five years ago - Ahmed had started working at a charity, and now wishes to return to his education, which he was forced to cut short due to the trial.

The pair were sentenced at Manchester Crown Court (MEN Media)

Reading out a report from June 2022, the court heard how Ahmed, born November 15, 2001, explained the 'only goal' of the account was to get likes and followers. He told the forensic psychologist: "You just want to help without really thinking". Ms Brimelow noted that since his conviction, Ahmed had 'gone so extremely the other way he is scared to even check the news'.

"He has not only lived a blameless life, but he has done his best to make the most of his life," Judge Field said of Ahmed. "He has grown up. He is not the same person who appeared in front of me the first time. It is powerful mitigation."

Defending Riaz, born October 4, 2001, Ms Brenda Campbell said he had been 'very immature' at the time of the offence, but was a 'child motivated to make a positive difference'. She said his last five years had been 'completely overshadowed' by what the pair had done as children.

Sentencing, Judge Field said the pair should have been dealt with by the youth court 'many years ago', and recognised the offence had been hanging over them for 'a quarter of your lifetimes'.

He said it was 'vanishingly unlikely' that the pair would have ever travelled to Syria, and that a homemade propaganda video they produced was 'pitiful'. "If these offences were not so serious, I would say laughable," he added.

"It probably can never be said that there is no risk here, but I am satisfied that there is not a significant risk of serious harm in either of your cases."

Both Ahmed and Riaz were handed a community order and 150 hours of unpaid work.


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