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Two British terrorists who fled the UK to fight in Syria had tricked their families into believing they were going on holiday to Turkey.
Yusuf Zubair Sarwar, 22, of Antrobus Road, Birmingham, and Nahin Ahmed, 22, of Farcroft Avenue, Birmingham, pleaded guilty to preparing for acts of terrorism at Woolwich Crown Court.
Judge Topolski QC, who described the case as a 'grave one', told the court that together the pair "carefully planned a journey from the UK to Turkey and on to Syria to join Islamist rebels fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad".
The court heard the two childhood friends had bought one-way tickets to Turkey and crossed the Syrian border before spending eight months fighting for al-Queda linked group, Kataib al Muhajireen (KaM), one of Syria's main conflict zones.
Sarwar had convinced his family the trip to Turkey was organised by Birmingham City University where he was a part time computer science student. He even designed a fake leaflet to make his plans look genuine.
But on their return to Heathrow Airport in January they were arrested by counter terrorism detectives, who were tipped off by the defendants' families.
The men told officers they had been doing humanitarian work but when they were searched officers found traces of military grade explosives – including TNT and nitro-glycerine - on their clothes and pictures on the cameras of them brandishing weapons.
Sarwar's mother went to the police after she found a handwritten note from her son, about his plans to engage in jihad with KaM, an al-queda linked group - saying he was "doing the best deed in Allah eyes" and would "never let Allah's religion be demonised".
The letter also left instructions to cancel his mobile phone contract and £5,000 money to settle outstanding debts.
He ended the letter by warning his mother not to contact the 'kuffar non believer authorities'.
The court was also told ahead of their trip, the pair ordered books, Islam For Dummies, The Koran For Dummies and Arabic For Dummies from Amazon.
A West Midlands police investigation revealed unemployed Ahmed sought advice from a fighter in Syria via Skype, and told him his intentions to join KaM and had exchanges with extremists in Denmark and Sweden.
Assistant Chief Constable Marcus Beale, senior officer for counter terrorism in the West Midlands, said: "These young men went to considerable lengths to hide their plans from their families, who have since suffered a great deal of distress.
"It's not easy to know everything that a family member is doing all of the time, but we encourage parents to hold a healthy interest and curiosity into who their children mix with and who seems to hold a strong influence over them.
"Crucially, if families are worried that a member is thinking of travelling to Syria it is very important that they tell the authorities as soon as possible.
"The police and other agencies can offer support to help safeguard those who are vulnerable to radicalisers and the sooner we can intervene the better chance we have of preventing young people from becoming embroiled in criminal behaviour.
"Police can't do this alone. We need a whole community effort."
Judge Topolski QC said he would not sentence the pair until later this summer.