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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Briton who fought against ISIL faces terrorism charge

Several Britons have been killed fighting with the YPG in Syria

James Matthews, the British citizen who travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight the Islamic State, will appear in court charged with terrorism offences. Channel 4 screen grab
James Matthews, the British citizen who travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight the Islamic State, will appear in court charged with terrorism offences. Channel 4 screen grab

A Briton who travelled to Syria to join a Kurdish militia has become the first person from the UK to face a terrorism charge for fighting against ISIL.

London's Metropolitan Police force said on Wednesday that James Matthews, 43, is accused of “attending a place or places in Iraq and Syria where instruction or training was provided” for terrorist purposes.

In March, a Jim Matthews was a signatory on an “open letter from British YPG fighters on London attacks” posted on a Kurdish news website. It urged people not to give in to extremism following several deadly attacks.

Mr Matthews, a former soldier, is due in court on February 14 to be formally charged. Fellow British fighters said that Mr Matthews has been back in the UK for nearly two years and has been teaching English in central London.

Several Britons have been killed fighting with Kurdish YPG militia against ISIL and Mr Matthews’ supporters said that dozens of Britons had also travelled to the region. The criminal case against Mr Matthews raises questions about whether others could face similar action.

Supporters claimed that he was being “unfairly persecuted” and criticised the decision to bring a case against him.

Irishman Joshua Molloy, a former YPG fighter, questioned the message that the criminal charge sent to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighting ISIL in a post on Twitter.

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Read more:

Syrian war reaches Britain as volunteers, not soldiers, die fighting ISIL

Did the UK “inadvertently neutralise” Iraq’s Kurds last year?

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Turkey considers the YPG to be a “terrorist” group as well as the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which has waged a bloody three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state and is considered a terrorist organisation by the United States.

Mr Matthews appeared in a 2015 documentary on British fighters, alongside 24-year-old fellow volunteer Jac Holmes, who died in Raqqa in November. Other volunteers have been arrested and questioned, including Joshua Walker who was acquitted of unrelated terror charges.

Macer Gifford, 31, from Cambridgeshire, told The National that he had travelled on three occasions to join the YPG since 2014 but had always dismissed the possibility that he would be arrested. He said he last saw Mr Matthews at the funeral of Mr Holmes earlier this month.

“It concerns me enormously because the charge is incredibly vague and it applies to everyone including myself,” he said. “He did no more or no less than what we all would have done.

“I don’t think that any jury in the land will convict him on the charges against him. It’s not in the public interest.”