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Civil war in Syria Reuters

Two Birmingham men, Yusuf Sawar and Mohammed Ahmed, both 21 and from the Handsworth area of the city, have appeared in court on terror charges after being detained at Heathrow by the West Midlands counter-terrorism unit.

Sawar and Ahmed are accused of the preparation and planning of terrorist acts contrary to section 5(1) of the Terrorism Act 2006.and of travelling to Syria to engage in acts of terrorism alongside a Jihadist organisation.

The men appeared at Westminster Magistrates' Court, where they confirmed they understood the charges. Wearing dark tracksuits and appearing subdued, Sawar and Ahmed also confirmed their names and dates of birth before Judge Quentin Purdy refused an application for bail by defence barristers due to the seriousness of the offence.

The judge referred the case to the central criminal court at the Old Bailey, where the two men will appear on 31 January.

Meanwhile, French authorities released details of two schoolboys aged 15 who are suspected of being the youngest Jihadists to travel to Syria to engage in the armed struggle. The boys, from the Toulouse area, used a family credit card to fly to the Middle East and have not returned.

The father of one of the boys – who cannot be named for legal reasons – described how his son had been "brain-washed" in an interview with La Depeche newspaper:

"There were exchanges on Facebook, and he watched videos about the war in Syria. With his computer and on his phone, he was always on social media with his friend. He said we wouldn't hear from him for a month, if he was still alive. He was with al-Qaida fighters. During his last phone call to us, he was talking about the fighters as his brothers."

Since full-scale civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, thousands of people have travelled to the region to take up arms against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Some have joined the pro-democracy movement, whereas others are fighting to impose Islamist rule.