By Jonathan Owen – The Independent
A teenager has appeared in court after allegedly trying to join Kurdish fighters battling Isis in Syria, in the first prosecution of its kind in Britain.
Campaigners condemned the prosecution of Silhan Ozcelik, 18, from London, as “disgraceful and disgusting”, however. Ms Ozcelik’s appearance at Westminster Magistrates’ Court followed her arrested at Stansted Airport in January after returning to Britain on a flight from Germany.
The teenager is accused of travelling to Brussels in October last year in a bid to join the guerrilla army in the Kurdistan Workers’ Party – known as the PKK. The organisation is on the Government’s list of banned terror groups.
Ms Ozcelik is charged with: “Engaging in conduct in preparation for giving effect to an intention to commit acts of terrorism contrary to section 5 (1) (a) of the Terrorism Act 2006.”
She spoke only to confirm her name, age and address during the short hearing, and was remanded in custody to appear at the Old Bailey next month.
Late last year, when it emerged she had gone missing from her London home, her brother Engin said: “We are 100 per cent sure she has gone away to carry out humanitarian and charity work and not to become a fighter against [Isis].”
As Ms Ozcelik was led away from the dock yesterday she smiled and appeared to mouth “It’s OK” to her brother, who was in the public gallery. Mark Campbell, a pro-Kurdish rights campaigner, described the case against the teenager as “disgraceful” and said: “I almost have no words for how angry I feel.” He added: “These charges should be dropped immediately and this girl should be released.”
Mr Campbell claimed the prosecution “clearly seems to be linked” to the news last week that former Royal Marine Konstandinos Erik Scurfield, from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, was the first Briton to have been killed fighting against Isis in Syria.
“It’s a political thing from the British Government because they are concerned that more British people are expressing support for the Kurds’ fight against Isis, because they don’t want to upset their [fellow] Nato member Turkey,” Mr Campbell said. “That is absolutely disgraceful and disgusting.”
Even if the allegation is true, “her only motivation was to fight Isis”, he added. “What jury is going to convict somebody who has expressed a desire to defeat this modern day fascism?”
While hundreds of Britons are thought to have joined Isis, a growing number are joining the fight against them – mainly within the ranks of Kurdish militia. Up to 50 Britons may have gone to Syria to fight against Isis and President Assad’s regime, according to Dr Afzal Ashraf, a counter-terrorism expert at the Royal United Services Institute.
And amid mounting concern over the growing number of foreign fighters on both sides, former Prime Minister Tony Blair warned yesterday that Western governments have not fully grasped the scale of the threat posed by militant Islamism and need to be prepared for a “long haul” to defeat it.
“We have not yet understood the depth of this problem, and the need for a comprehensive strategy to deal with it,” he said. “It is not just Islamic State in Iraq and Syria… It is happening day in and day out – there are thousands of people losing their lives every few weeks.”