An 18 year old woman has appeared at the Old Bailey charged with terrorism after tried to join the fight against ISIS. Her arrest in January came as the brave actions of Kurdish fighters in holding back Islamic forces around the town of Kobane came to the attention of the world.
London-born Shilan Ozcelik, who is of Kurdish descent was arrested in January on her return from Syria, accused of fighting against Islamic State. She stated that she had been doing humanitarian work, a claim which her family supported, but was 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,” the Kurdistan Tribune has reported.
As such, she is believed to be the first British person arrested for trying to join the campaign against Islamic State by travelling to Iraq or Syria. Having been denied bail in April at a hearing at the Old Bailey, she appeared in court yesterday for what was supposed to be the first day of her trial. Instead, judges adjourned the case until November 16, according to Bas News.
The charges are understood to relate to her alleged membership of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) which is listed as a terrorist organisation by Nato and the European Union following a decades long violent struggle for independence from Turkey and Iraq.
The PKK declared a ceasefire in 2013, and since then has been co-ordinating with the US military in the fight against ISIS, including in the fight to defend the Syrian border town of Kobane. Cemil Bayik, the top field commander of the PKK declared last November: “Kobane will not fall. We are advancing on the eastern and southern fronts,” reporting that the Kurdish fighters had succeeded “taking back the municipal building and Isis was forced to blow up a mosque it held”.
The Kurdish victory in Kobane came to international attention in January, the same month that Ozcelik was arrested, prompting European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to declare: “The war against the Islamic State is not just a Kurdish war, but it concerns us all. But we are certain that ISIS cannot stay in this region for long.”
In fact, Ozcelik’s supporters insist that her intention was to join the Kurdish women’s protection units, known as the YPJ, based in Rojava – the Kurdish enclave in northern Syria under attack by ISIS – which has also come to global attention thanks to its use of women on the front line.
Neither the YPJ, nor the YPG, the main men’s Kurdish Peshmerga are proscribed. A statement issued by Peace in Kurdistan at the time of her pre-trial hearing in April said: “The YPG and YPJ, who had been in a tacit alliance with US and British forces in the struggle for Kobane, are not listed on any terrorist list.”
On Sunday they issued a further statement, highlighting the contradiction between fighting alongside the Kurds in Syria and charging Ozcelik, “as a blatant example of selective and political criminalisation of the Kurdish community, which has continued since the PKK was listed as a ‘terrorist organisation’ in 2000.”
Ozcelik’s supporters held a protest outside the Old Bailey at the April hearing. Around two dozen protesters called for her release, holding up placards with slogans including: “We are all YPJ” and: “Shilan Ozcelik is not a threat to UK national security, Isis is”.
The UK Home Office has said, “UK law makes provisions to deal with different conflicts in different ways – fighting in a foreign war is not automatically an offence but will depend on the nature of the conflict and the individual’s own activities.”
By the time of her trial in November, Ozcelik will have spent nearly a year in Holloway Prison, a women’s prison which lists a number of suffragettes among its former inmates.