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Blackburn brothers guilty of terror offences
TWO Blackburn brothers who called themselves the Blackburn Resistance have been found guilty of terrorism offences.
But the judge who jailed Abbas and Ilyas Iqbal for a total of four years and six months said the prosecution case had been overstated, and told them: 'I doubt you would have amounted to much'.
Judge Andrew Gilbart said ringleader Abbas’ downfall and ‘great weakness’ may have been vanity as he ‘looked like he was getting ready to carry out an attack’.
A third defendant, Muhammad Ali Ahmad, 26, of Whalley Range, was found not guilty of preparation for acts of terrorism.
Outside court, he demanded an inquiry into the case, claiming the prosecution was motivated by Islamaphobia. Judge Gilbart said it was shocking Ahmad had spent 387 days in custody ‘for doing absolutely nothing’.
After the case police said the convictions of the Iqbal brothers had ‘vindicated’ their investigation.
Abbas Iqbal, 24, was sentenced to three years in prison after being found guilty of two offences.
The dissemination of terrorist publications charge was linked to pictures, audio clips and videos found on his mobile phone at Manchester Airport in August 2008.
Preparation for acts of terrorism included training and stockpiling weapons at his home in Percival Street.
Ilyas Iqbal, 23, also of Percival Street, was sentenced to 18 months for possession of a publication likely to be useful for terrorists, a blue ring binder containing his notes about weapons and military tactics.
Sentencing Abbas at Manchester Crown Court, Judge Andrew Gilbart, said: "The terrorism of which we are dealing here is not terrorism directed at civilians in this country.
"The prosecution case was that you wanted to give support to the suffering of the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan and perhaps assist the Palestinian resistance in the occupied territories of that unhappy region."
The judge said that ‘much of the prosecution case was overstated’ and that he did not consider the actions of the duo in Corporation Park, in which they filmed themselves in combat gear, as preparing for terrorism.
But addressing Abbas he said: "I did find that you wanted to make yourself experienced in the use of weapons.
"Your level of skill and knowledge was at the low end of the scale.
"You fancied yourself as a fighter for the cause but truth be told you were a pretty low grade one and I doubt that you would have amounted to much.
"You are committed to the return of these countries to what you see is the true path and believe that it can be properly achieved by the use of terrorism."
Judge Gilbart said Abbas had used the footage of his brother and Mr Ahmad engaging in ‘a bit of innocent fooling about in the park’ and presented it as ‘much more serious’ and that it was ‘not surprising’ the police had treated it as ‘the activities of a terrorist cell’.
Addressing Ilyas, he said he did not believe the evidence showed he was preparing for acts of terrorism, for which he was cleared.
But referring to the binder he said: "You do have a genuine interest in weapons, military warfare and history and your skill in that area did make it useful."
Abbas, who had served 447 days in custody, is likely to serve another three to four months in jail.
Ilyas, who had also spent 447 days in custody, walked free from court. He declined to comment as he left court.
John Burton, defending Abbas, said the material on his client's phone was a case of ‘the element of recklessness more than intent’ and, along with his preparation, was ‘at the very low end of the scale’.
However, Judge Gilbart said that while there was no evidence Abbas was preparing for a specific attack, ‘It looked like he was getting himself ready so he could one day do it.’ The judge said: "It may be that his greatest sin, his greatest weakness, is actually his vanity."
Roderick Price, defending Ilyas, said his client's offences were also at ‘the low end of the scale’ and the judge admitted he would have ‘difficulty’ sentencing him.
However, Judge Gilbart criticised prosecutors and police for the way that Mr Ahmad had been treated, spending 387 days in custody and losing nearly two years of his life before he was found to be innocent.
He said: "I find it quite shocking how long he had been in there for doing absolutely nothing."
A police spokesman for the North West Counter Terrorism Unit speaking at court said its investigations had been ‘vindicated’.
He said: "I am happy with the results that the jury came back with and I feel that the results vindicate the inquiry, which in some quarters we have been criticised for.
"I feel we have justified the efforts and energies of the staff who worked on this in the counter terrorism unit. I think any terrorism offence is serious and they need to be thoroughly investigated."
Blackburn community leader Lord Adam Patel said: "If they are guilty, they have got the right punishment.
"I am very disappointed in them and that this has happened in my home town of Blackburn. The majority of the ethnic community is working hard to build better relations and the community will be disappointed for the same reasons."
Blackburn MP Jack Straw said: "They had a fair trial as they are entitled and I think this verdict sends out a message to the public about the determination of the authorities to keep people safe.
"Overwhelmingly the Asian community was shocked by the allegations.”
Former councillor and community leader Hussain Akhtar said: "The community is shocked and we are not happy with what these boys have done.
"We try to raise good citizens in Blackburn and people feel let down.
"They come from a good family and they have let their family down as well. I hope in the future this will make people think twice."