British cyber-jihadist Babar Ahmad jailed in US

Babar Ahmad spent a decade fighting his case, as Dominic Casciani reports

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A British computer expert who admitted supporting terrorism through the internet has been sentenced in a US court to 12-and-a-half years in prison.

Babar Ahmad, of Tooting, south London, had admitted conspiracy and providing material to support the Taliban.

Ahmad has already spent almost 10 years in prison in the UK and US and his lawyer thinks he could be released in about seven-and-a-half months.

He waived his right to an appeal as part of a plea agreement.

Ahmad's co-accused, Syed Talha Ahsan, also of Tooting, was sentenced to time already served, meaning he is now free.

'No threat'

Sentencing Ahmad, the judge said she had to weigh the seriousness of the crime with his good character, after reading thousands of letters of support and hearing from British prison officials who described him as an exemplary prisoner.

Internet Jihadi: Babar Ahmad will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4's The Report on 17 July at 20:00 BST.

She said Ahmad was not an operational terrorist, showed he posed no threat to the public and exhibited remorse for setting up websites that promoted jihad.

The judge said she was struck by the impact the Bosnia War had had on him, where he had gone as an 18-year-old and saw the suffering of Muslims, after which he committed to jihad.

The court in New Haven, Connecticut, handed down a sentence of 150 months, half of the 25 years the prosecution was seeking.

Ahmad is expected to carry out the remainder of his sentence in New York's Metropolitan Correctional Center.

Ahmad's legal team said his release date would be dependent on good behaviour.

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Analysis
Court sketch of Babar Ahmad Babar Ahmad was sentenced at a court in Connecticut

Dominic Casciani, home affairs correspondent, BBC News

Babar Ahmad spent a decade fighting his case - and the judge's relatively lenient sentence - half what prosecutors sought - reflects its complexity.

He and others ran an undeniably influential online operation propagating armed jihadist ideology from the late 1990s; their beliefs born on the battlefields of Bosnia, where Ahmad and others went to protect Muslim civilians from massacre.

His mistake, as he now admits, was to translate that into support for the Taliban as 9/11 approached.

Ahmad was once a hugely influential man. Some of his former peers believe that he could play an instrumental role in persuading today's generation - including those going to Syria - where the line lies between fighting for self-defence and terrorism.

He has many supporters who will welcome him home, but he will also live forever with the label of a convicted terrorist.

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Ahmad, who spent a decade fighting against conviction, was accused of being the mastermind behind the world’s first English website dedicated to jihad.

He had thousands of supporters in the UK during his record eight-year battle against extradition.

He was accused of operating the now defunct Azzam.com family of websites, established to spread jihad in 1996.

The websites published reports of mujahedeen battles in Bosnia and Chechnya, and called for support for the Taliban.

Later, they also published documents setting out Osama bin Laden’s call for a holy war against the West.

The US authorities said his online activities had an almost unprecedented global reach and that he sent recruits to train with the Taliban.

Ahmad was never charged with an offence in the UK, despite his network operating in London.

Ahmad, 40, has admitted he ran the sites and said he made a grave error as a young man in going on to support the Taliban, but he denied that his interpretation of jihad for self-defence had developed into support for al-Qaeda inspired terrorist attacks.

A statement posted on the Free Babar Ahmad Facebook page said the campaign was "finally coming to the end of a very long journey".

It added: "It has been a very difficult and tiresome struggle but at last, we can see light at the end of the tunnel."

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