British ex-soldier convicted in Turkey of fighting Isis in Syria ‘secretly returns to UK’

Originally published by The Independent.

A former soldier convicted of terrorism charges by Turkey after fighting Isis has secretly returned to Britain, according to reports.

Joe Robinson travelled to Syria in 2015 and joined up with the People’s Protection Units (YPG). He claims he only spent a month with the Syrian Kurdish militia, acting solely as a medic.

But while on holiday in Turkey last year, the 25-year-old was arrested and charged with terrorism offences, before a court handed him a seven-year sentence in September

Ankara says the YPG is connected with a banned separatist movement, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is fighting for Kurdish autonomy within Turkey, and so considers it a terrorist group.

Mr Robinson’s Bulgarian fiancée Mira Rojkan, a law student at the University of Leeds, was also arrested and given a suspended sentence for spreading “terrorist propaganda”. Ms Rojkan said she only shared some pro-Kurdish posts on YouTube and Facebook.

In an interview with ITV News at the time, Mr Robinson said he was “begging” the British government to intervene in his case.

He said he was “mentally, physically and emotionally drained” and had been kept in solitary confinement for the first three months of his arrest.

But as he was appealing his sentence, he was released on bail and has now fled back home to Britain, according to the the BBC.

The former soldier said he was not given permission by the Turkish authorities to leave, but decided to go because he “could not accept the sentence and charges as I am not a criminal”.

He now only wanted some privacy to spend time with his friends and family, he added.

He has not been home since his holiday to Turkey in July last year.

When asked to comment, a spokesman for the Foreign Office would only say it had provided consular assistance to Mr Robinson while he was in Turkey,

The YPG militia has been a key ally of the US and the UK in the fight against Isis, pushing the extremist group out of swathes of north and eastern Syria.

Mr Robinson is one of dozens of British nationals who travelled to Syria to join the group, which espouses Marxist-Leninist politics and has attracted fighters from all over the world.

Eight Britons are believed to have been killed fighting for it.

Despite being allied with the YPG in Syria, the UK government has struggled to figure out what to do with nationals who return home after fighting for the group.

When Mr Robinson first returned from Syria to the UK in November 2015, he was arrested at Manchester Airport on suspicion of terrorism offences. The charges were later dropped.

Earlier this year, 43-year-old James Matthews and Aidan James, 27, became the first to be charged in the UK with terror offences for links to the YPG.

Charges against Mr Matthews were dropped due to a lack of evidence.