Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 July 2019

'Jihadi Jack': Parents of UK ISIS suspect still proud of their son

John Letts and Sally Lane were found guilty of funding terrorism by a UK court

John Letts and Sally Lane, the parents of Jack Letts. PA  
John Letts and Sally Lane, the parents of Jack Letts. PA  

A British couple convicted of funding terrorism after sending money to their ISIS fighter son in Syria said they hope he will be allowed back home.

John Letts and Sally Lane transferred £223 (Dh1,026) to Jack Letts – branded “Jihadi Jack” by the UK media – in 2015, after police warned them repeatedly not to do so.

The couple were spared jail last month but were handed a 15-month suspended sentence in a legal case that cost about £7 million (Dh32.2m).

Letts, 23, left his home in Oxford in 2014 to fight in Syria with ISIS and was later captured by Kurdish forces. He has spent the past two years in jail in northern Syria.

In an interview with British newspaper the Observer, Jack’s parents said they would not be able to move on with their lives, despite their own trial being over, until their son was back in the UK.

“It’s nice that we are not in prison, I suppose. Though at least if you are in prison, you know there is nothing you can do,” John Letts, 58, told the newspaper.

Jack Letts has given a number of interviews from jail to British media. In an interview with the BBC in October 2018, the Muslim convert said he had once considered becoming a suicide bomber, describing himself as an “enemy of Britain”.

In a subsequent interview with Sky News, he said he wanted to return home and had no intention of blowing people up.

Letts’ parents maintain that he travelled to the Middle East for humanitarian reasons and had never fought with ISIS.

They said his conversion to Islam at the age of 16 exacerbated his obsessive-compulsive disorder and regretted not helping him more with his mental health when he was growing up.

They said they believed he was a “gentle soul” and said ISIS would have used him as a poster boy had he joined the group.

“He was a white Englishman, surely ISIS would have used him in recruitment videos and so on if he was involved,” Lane said. “Or there would be pictures of him posing with guns.”

They said they believe he gave the interviews under duress from his Kurdish jailers.

They point to an interview Jack gave to British television station ITV in February as example of his good character. He had told the broadcaster that if he had to stay in jail longer so women and children could leave first, that would be “OK”.

“I was really proud of him saying that,” John Letts said. “Of course people will read that and say: ‘You are proud of Jihadi Jack – you have to be insane!’ But I’m sorry, from my perspective he is still a decent kid. I have always said that if we find something he has done wrong, I will be the first to condemn it. Until then, am I supposed to just believe what the Daily Mail says about my son?”

Repatriation of ISIS fighters has been a divisive issue in British politics since the extremist group’s so-called caliphate began to fall.

In one highly politicised case, Shamima Begum, who left her home in London to join ISIS at the age of 15, was stripped of her British citizenship by Home Secretary Sajid Javid.

About 400 of the 900 British nationals who went to fight with ISIS in Syria have now been repatriated, according to UK Home Office figures, although only 40 have or will face a trial.

Updated: July 7, 2019 06:14 PM

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