A Sheffield student jailed today for terrorism offences says he believes 'it is difficult to be tried by people who have not been influenced by what is being said about Islam' - and that he intends to appeal his conviction to prove his innocence.
Jurors found Mohammed Awan guilty of three terrorism offences, including one of engaging in conduct in preparation of terrorist acts, last week, following a three week trial.
During a hearing at Sheffield Crown Court today, Judge Paul Watson QC jailed the University of Sheffield dentistry student for 10 years and ordered him to serve three years extended licence on his release.
The court was told how his brother, Rizwan Awan, travelled with his wife Sophie from Manchester Airport to Istanbul, Turkey, on 17 May 2015 to join Islamic State and blew himself up in Iraq in March last year.
Following Awan's sentence today, his solicitors have released a statement through which Awan has maintained his innocence and says he intends to appeal his conviction and sentence.
He said: "Ever since the day of my arrest in June this year, I have been desperate to clear my name and had hoped that the trial process would have exonerated me from being
labelled a terrorist.
"To say that this is unfortunate is an understatement. I said I was innocent in June 2017 and I still maintain my innocence of the allegations against me.
"I cannot go behind the jury’s decision and do not know why they convicted me.
"I suspect that given the present climate, Muslims such as myself, facing charges of terrorism will find it difficult to be tried by people who are not influenced by what is being said about Muslims in particular and Islam in general.
"I confirm that I abhor and condemn all forms of terrorism.
"I have instructed my lawyers to appeal against my conviction and sentence. I sincerely hope that one day, in the near future, I will be able to show that I am innocent of the charges against me."
Awan, 24, who was studying dentistry at the University, was arrested at his flat in Dun Street, Kelham Island, in June, after he bought 500 ball bearings online.
Extremist material he possessed advised how to use ball bearings in home-made bombs. Awan, originally from Huddersfield, was found to possess a 'significant volume' of extremist material, including advice on how to be a 'sleeper cell' in the West, jurors in his trial last week were told.
He initially tried to justify his purchase of the ball bearings by saying he was a keen angler and hunter who was planning to use them to hunt rabbits with a catapult, a trial at Sheffield Crown Court heard.
A jury heard Awan had downloaded a terrorism manual which included headings such as Survival Techniques, Modern Weapons, Bomb Making, The Jihad Begins and Escaping for Safety.
A memory stick found in his bedroom contained a 36-minute video featuring a senior al Qaida leader, who was reportedly killed in a US drone strike in 2016.
In the film, he called on young Muslims to join Isis and featured graphic footage of how to kill and kidnap victims.
Items recovered by counter-terror officers included 11 mobile phones, 16 memory sticks, and around 60 Sim cards, containing a host of terrorism-related material.
The charges Awan was convicted of last week were: two counts of possessing a document or record containing information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism and one of engaging in conduct in preparation of terrorist acts or assisting others to commit such acts.
Following his conviction, Detective Superintendent Simon Atkinson, Head of Investigations at Counter Terrorism Policing North East, said: “Whilst we do not know the full details of Awan’s intentions, officers intervened swiftly before Awan could put any plans into practice.
"Public safety is, and always will be, our priority when making operational decisions. “We urge the public to be vigilant and to report any suspicious activity to the police by calling the police, in confidence, on 0800 789321 or in an emergency by dialling 999.
"Suspicious activity is anything that seems out of place, unusual or just doesn’t seem to fit in with day-to-day life."