Skip to main content

British YPG volunteer cleared of terror charges for owning Anarchist Cookbook

Josh Walker was detained on his return from Syria, where he had been fighting against the Islamic State group
Volunteers from several countries have fought with the YPG, but their treatment on returning home varies

A British student who faced terror charges after fighting with a pro-Kurdish militia in Syria has been cleared of possessing terrorist information.

Josh Walker faced charges for keeping a copy of the Anarchist Cookbook, a manual written in 1971 with instructions for making explosives and pipe bombs, under the bed in his flat in Wales.

The downloaded book was discovered in a police search after Walker returned from northern Syria, where he had travelled in June 2016 to fight with the People's Protection Units (YPG) as a volunteer.

The 27-year-old was detained at London Gatwick airport in December and charged with possessing or recording “information of a kind likely to be useful to committing or preparing an act of terror”.

In his closing statements, Walker’s lawyer Joel Bennathan QC said the charges against Walker were indicative of a “mad world”.

“Anti-terrorism laws should be used against terrorists or people who actually help terrorists not harmless curious young people,” he said.

“Either the CPS can use this sort of law to tell us what we can and can’t read,” he said, "or we can say: As long as it causes no harm, we read what we like.”

Walker had faced IS militants in battle, according to an interview with the Intercept, but had come closest to mortal danger in a strike by Turkish aircraft. The attack killed several other Kurdish and non-Kurdish fighters and reportedly left the young volunteer traumatised.

Mark Campbell, co-chair of the Kurdistan Solidarity Campaign, said bringing the case to trial had been a “waste of money” that was “clearly not in the public interest”.

“I hope at a time when we’re seeing young Kurdish and non-Kurdish men coming back in coffins from Syria that the British government will stop criminalising people who should be treated as heroes,” he said.

Walker's defence argued that the book was widely available, and that it had been downloaded as part of a game simulating emergency crisis scenarios as part of his politics course. 

Turkey has branded British volunteers fighting alongside the YPG "terrorists", while British authorities have warned against "all travel to Syria" and called on UK citizens in the country to "leave now by any practical means". 

According to Kurdish news site NRT, the UK Home Office said those travelling to participate in conflicts abroad “may be committing offences” depending on "the circumstances and nature of the individual’s activity"

The Home Office is quoted as saying that any decision on criminal proceedings will be made by the Crown Prosecution Service and police "based on the evidence available”.