LONDON (AP) — A couple from Oxford whose son converted to Islam and traveled to Syria to support the Islamic State group were found guilty Friday and given suspended sentences for trying to send him money.
Organic farmer John Letts, 58, and ex-Oxfam fundraiser Sally Lane, 56, said they were acting as any parents would have when they tried to send their 23-year-old son cash when he begged for help from another country. They say they believed their son, Jack Letts, was in mortal danger and trapped in Raqqa, Syria.
“We tried to do the right thing,” the couple said in a statement. “We fully cooperated with the police and asked them repeatedly for help. They promised they would help us, but instead of helping us, they used the information we provided to prosecute us.”
Prosecutor Alison Morgan says the couple “turned a blind eye to the obvious” — that Jack Letts had traveled to the Middle East and become an extremist.Authorities say the couple had been warned not to send money at risk of prosecution, but chose to ignore the advice.
The couple sent — or tried to send — 1,723 pounds ($2,188) to their son, who has been dubbed Jihadi Jack by the British media. The jury deliberated for nearly 20 hours before finding them guilty of one charge of funding terrorism.
Judge Nicholas Hilliard sentenced the pair to 15 months’ imprisonment but suspended the sentence for 12 months because of the “very special circumstances of this case.”
“It was one thing for parents to be optimistic about their children and I do acknowledge he is your son, who you love very much,” he said. “But in this context you did lose sight of realities.”
Despite warnings about their son’s burgeoning extremist views, the parents believed he had traveled to the Mideast on a “grand adventure” to learn Arabic in Jordan in May 2014. He moved to Kuwait and married. In September 2014, Lane testified that her son phoned from Syria.
His father begged him to come home, telling him a father “should never live to see his son buried.” Police raided the family home in 2015.
Later in 2015, Jack Letts posted on Facebook that he would like to perform a “martyrdom operation” on a group of British soldiers. Police warned the family that “sending money to Jack is the same as sending money to ISIS.”
But by the end of that year, Jack Letts was indicating that he wanted to come home. The family tried to transfer more money but the funds were blocked and the couple was arrested.
Jack Letts, now 23, is being held by Kurdish authorities in northern Syria. His future is unclear.
“It’s hard to imagine the kind of agony they must be going through because of the choices their son made,” said Detective Chief Superintendent Kath Barnes. But she nonetheless hoped their convictions would send a message.
“It’s not for us to choose which laws to follow and which not to,” she said.