New probe as UK Twitter fundraiser jailed for Syria jihadi links

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 11, 2016 9:52 AM

By Tom Esslemont

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain's charity watchdog has said it will reopen an investigation into how a British man convicted of helping a teenager travel to Syria to fight with Islamic State (ISIS) diverted charitable funds raised through social media.

Adeel Ulhaq, 21, was found guilty at London's central criminal court along with two other men from England and Wales of helping in "the preparation of an act of terrorism," BBC News reported on Wednesday.

The three received prison sentences of between 4.5 and 5 years for assisting 19-year-old Aseel Muthana to join ISIS in February 2014, and Ulhaq received an additional year for funding terrorism, the report said.

British security services estimate up to 800 people have traveled to Iraq and Syria, many to join ISIS, and about half have returned home.

The Charity Commission froze Ulhaq's bank account after he was found to have been diverting money raised through Twitter in support of humanitarian aid convoys to his personal account.

The watchdog, whose remit is to ensure charitable funds are properly spent, said there were legal considerations to be taken on board when people raised money in an unofficial way.

"If you raise funds for humanitarian work or other charitable purposes, you are accountable for their proper use, even if you have not registered as a charity," said Michelle Russell, investigations director at the Charity Commission.

An inquiry into Ulhaq's fundraising methods, put on hold during the criminal proceedings, will now reopen, a Charity Commission spokeswoman said.

Last year a British thinktank, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), reported that aid convoys heading to Syria from Britain might be used by potential fighters posing as aid workers, and that armed groups might divert aid for their own purposes.

But it also said the risk of British charities being exploited had been overstated by banks.

(Reporting By Tom Esslemont, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)