‘Political Decision’ Terror Charge Against Soldier Who Fought Against Islamic State Dropped

KOBANE, SYRIA - JUNE 20: (TURKEY OUT) A Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG fighters stand near a check point in the outskirts of the destroyed Syrian town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, Syria. June 20, 2015. Kurdish fighters with the YPG took full control of Kobane and …
Ahmet Sik/Getty

British prosecutors have dropped terror charges against an ex-soldier who fought against Islamic State with the Kurdish YPG forces, with the veteran’s lawyer claiming the charges were brought as a political move by the UK government to protect arms sales with Turkey which opposes any expression of Kurdish nationalism.

James Matthews, 43, was charged under the Terrorism Act for receiving training “for purposes connected to the commission or preparation of terrorism” and pleaded not guilty to the charge in court in February 2018.

He had been due to face trial at London’s Old Bailey in November before charges were dropped Tuesday after the Crown Prosecution Service said there was no longer a chance of conviction based on “evidential grounds”, with Prosecutor Tom Little QC adding that the decision was based on further evidence “specific” to the case.

It was believed to be the first time charges were brought against a Briton independently assisting a group that was also being assisted by the UK government, and is one of a number of Britons arrested after returning from fighting against Islamist terror groups in the Middle East.

Mr Matthews joined the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) in 2015, which is widely credited with driving back Islamic State, and featured in the Channel 4 documentary The Brits Battling ISIS.

He returned to the UK in 2016 after serving three tours and assisting the Kurdish population of Rojava and Western coalition forces against Islamic State.

The veteran’s lawyer, Joel Bennathan QC, said his client was happy with the charges being dropped but has demanded answers as to why they were raised against him in the first place.

“We have always said the decision to prosecute Mr Matthews for fighting with the YPG against Isis was extraordinary and totally unjustified,” Mr Bennathan said.

“Mr Matthews was always open about what he had done and it is baffling that the CPS took two years to decide to prosecute him, then seven months later they have suddenly realised there is not enough evidence to do so,” he said.

“There never was a credible case of terrorism to be made against Mr Matthews, either factually, morally or legally.

“When Jim was arrested the YPG was a politically necessary ally of the UK. By the time of charge, it was not.

“Political calculations had changed, as the YPG had by then all but defeated Isis. Turkey, an avowed opponent of the YPG and any signs of a Kurdish independence movement, is an important market for British arms sales, perhaps ever more important in the current political climate.

“Was this the reason why the Attorney General decided that an otherwise implausible prosecution be brought?

“After the stress and anxiety of two years waiting followed by seven months on bail and numerous court appearances, Jim Matthews is entitled to an answer.”

Mr Bennathan said he would apply for disclosure on “why the Attorney General has taken the political decision to prosecute Mr Matthews and whether pressure from the Turkish government has played a part in that”.

Breitbart London reported that a “significant portion” of the more than 400 Islamic State fighters who have returned to Britain are at large and have not been prosecuted, with the UK’s anti-terror tsar believing they should be reintegrated rather than punished.

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