Photo of Twin Towers cake used to prosecute terrorists

Battlefield evidence featuring mobile phones and marriage certificates helps convict returned foreign fighters

Adel Abdel Bary was a London spokesman for Osama bin Laden and publicised the 1998 attacks on US embassies in Africa. AP
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Photos of a woman celebrating Osama Bin Laden’s birthday with a Twin Towers cake are among a cache of battlefield evidence being used in European courts to prosecute returned foreign fighters.

Wedding invitations and marriage and death certificates found in conflict zones by coalition forces are helping to convict ISIS and Al Qaeda militants, as evidence is being shared in a global push to combat terrorism.

Recent cases have seen the recovery of a phone showing a woman and her children with guns, and emails sent to high-ranking Al Qaeda operatives containing terror plot information.

Many fighters arrived in Syria from Europe in high-performance cars and continued their western lifestyles, however, their failure to abandon home comforts has helped in the cache of evidence being collected against them, such as high-end mobile phones.

Earlier this year, Interpol trained more than 30 Iraqi military personnel in crime scene preservation, including collection and management of evidence.

A report published by crime agency Eurojust this week, entitled 2020 Memorandum on Battlefield Evidence, shows the practice is being used by at least 10 EU member states.

Medley of items recovered

Items recovered included photos depicting crimes against civilians, fingerprints on explosive devices and emails describing terrorist plots, while the discovery of wedding invitations, marriage certificates and wills also helped seal convictions.

In Germany, a phone found in Syria has led to the prosecution of the widow of an ISIS gangster rapper.

The woman, referred to as Omaima A, is due to stand trial for the slavery of a Yazidi child and being a member of ISIS.

The phone allegedly shows photos of her celebrating Osama Bin Laden’s birthday with a cake of the Twin Towers and of her and her three children with rifles.

Earlier this year, a Belgium widow was sentenced to five years in prison in absentia and had her citizenship revoked after coalition forces discovered her marriage certificate in Raqqa, Syria, which showed she had been married to an ISIS recruiter.

The woman, known only as Saeeda, travelled to Syria in 2013 with her young son to join her husband, Rashid, where they became members of the Mujahideen Shura Council, and later ISIS.

Rashid was sentenced in absentia to eight years in prison in 2015 for his involvement in the Sharia4Belgium group, which radicalised and sent 70 fighters to Syria.

However, when Saeeda remarried in 2017 her marriage certificate confirmed the death of Rashid and that the pair had been married, aiding her prosecution by Belgian authorities.

In Britain, Anis Abid Sardar was jailed for 38 years for the murder of 34-year-old US soldier Randy Johnson. The father-of-two had been killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2007.

Sardar was caught years later while working as a cab driver in London. He had been part of a bomb-making cell in Iraq and battlefield evidence recovered saw the FBI match his fingerprints to components of two bombs, including the device which had killed Sergeant Johnson.

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Anis Abid Sardar mugshot
British taxi driver jailed for making bombs to kill US soldiers in Iraq - 22 May 2015
London taxi driver Anis Abid Sardar, 38, from Wembley, who was jailed for life and told he must serve a minimum of 38 years after being found guilty of building bombs in a "deadly" campaign to kill American soldiers and murdering a US soldier in a roadside bombing in Iraq.  It is believed to be the first time someone has been convicted in a UK court for involvement in the Iraqi insurgency. Woolwich Crown Court heard black cab driver Sardar built bombs that were planted in or around the road west out of Baghdad in 2007. One of his bombs killed 34-year-old American soldier, Sergeant First Class Randy Johnson, of 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment when it hit the armoured vehicle he was travelling in on September 27 2007. Sardar was arrested seven years later when the FBI found his fingerprints on some of the bombs.
London taxi driver Anis Abid Sardar was jailed for life over a deadly campaign to kill American soldiers. Shutterstock

“While there are many challenges in obtaining such data and making sure it meets the criteria for admissible evidence, it has paved the way for bringing terrorist suspects to trial,” the report said.

“Since 2018, co-operation with the US authorities has also been developing in this area.”

Last year, Interpol’s Secretary General, Jürgen Stock, underlined the need for enhanced sharing of information, particularly biometrics, to combat the terrorism threat to the G5 Sahel ministers of security, calling for it to be “effectively streamlined”.

Interpol’s databases currently hold details of more than 50,000 foreign terrorist fighters, 3,500 bomb-makers and more than 400,000 items of terrorist-related information.

More than 20 ISIS terrorist cases are currently going through EU courts for war crimes offences, with more than 3,000 under investigation.