Briton sentenced 12.5 years in US for Taliban support

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NEW YORK (AFP) – A US judge sentenced a British computer engineer to 12.5 years in prison Wednesday for conspiring to provide and for providing equipment and personnel to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Babar Ahmad who has already spent a decade in custody after being arrested in 2004, was extradited to the United States in 2012 as part of a batch of Britons wanted on terror charges.

The 40-year-old was indicted on charges of conspiring to support and supporting the Taliban while they were sheltering Al-Qaeda, Chechens fighting the Russians and other related terror groups.

For years, he pleaded not guilty but in December changed his plea on two counts of the indictment — conspiring to provide and providing support to the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

US District Judge Janet Hall sentenced Ahmad to 150 months’ imprisonment in a US federal court in Connecticut, a court spokesman told AFP.

The case was heard in New Haven because websites he ran in London relied for a time on a Connecticut hosting company.

A second British man, Syed Talha Ahsan, 34, who was arrested in 2006 and extradited to the United States on the same charges, is due to be sentenced later Wednesday.

– Released in months? –

Since Ahmad has already served a decade in custody, media reports suggested he could be released within months.

Campaigners say he was the Briton held the longest without charge as part of the global “war on terror.”

The son of a retired civil servant and a retired science teacher, Ahmad worked in the IT department of London’s prestigious Imperial College at the time of his arrest and lived in south London.

The United States accused him of supporting terror by running a series of websites produced under the name Azzam Publications and operated from 1996 to 2002.

US prosecutors described the case as an early example of using the Internet to radicalize others and to promote terror groups.

They said Ahmad recruited and arranged for would-be fighters to travel to Afghanistan for training, and admitted to soliciting items, including military suits and gas masks, for the Taliban.

Court papers said he tried to secure GPS devices, Kevlar helmets, night vision goggles, ballistic vests and camouflage combat suits.

The Taliban, in power from 1996 until late 2001, sheltered Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda until they were toppled by the 2001 US-led offensive that followed the 9/11 attacks.

Remnants of the outfit regrouped and today fight against the Western-backed Afghan government and the NATO combat mission there.

US officials said Ahmad was in possession of an email that contained previously classified plans regarding the deployment of a US naval battle group from California to the Middle East.

In 2001, Azzam Publications posted an article entitled “What You Can Do to Help the Taliban,” which provided detailed instructions on how to raise and deliver amounts over $20,000 in cash to the Taliban via its consulate in Pakistan.

Campaigners in Britain slammed his extradition to the United States, saying that he and other British suspects should have instead faced trial at home.

In 2009, Ahmad won 60,000 pounds ($102,817 today) compensation from British police after being injured while he was held briefly without charge in December 2003.

Officers re-arrested him in August 2004 following an extradition request from the United States.

He was sent to the United States with radical cleric Abu Hamza, who was convicted in New York in May and faces life behind bars.

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