Student, 21, jailed for downloading video on how to make suicide vest

Student, 21, is jailed for nearly five years for downloading video on how to make shrapnel-laden suicide vest despite being referred to Government’s anti-terror ‘Prevent’ programme

  • Liam Fenn was referred to Prevent following comments made at college in 2017
  • He had emailed terror group Al Muhajiroun asking ‘how best to conduct jihad’
  • In January he was arrested after downloading ‘enormous volume’ of material
  • This included detailed videos showing how to manufacture an explosive vest

A student has been jailed for nearly five years for downloading a video on how to make a shrapnel-laden suicide vest, just three years after being put on the radar of the Government’s anti-terror programme.

Liam Fenn, from Wigan, Greater Manchester, was referred to Prevent following comments he made at his sixth form college to a youth mentor in March 2017.

The 21-year-old, who is autistic, went on to tell police officers he had sent emails to banned UK-based terror group Al Muhajiroun seeking advice on ‘how best to conduct jihad’ and asking whether he should travel to Medina to study or to Syria to fight.

Alex Leach, prosecuting, said Fenn was warned by police about the dangers of taking advice from unknown people over the internet and of viewing and downloading material that would breach terror laws.

On January 29 this year, he was arrested at his home and a number of electronic devices were seized from his bedroom, Manchester Crown Court was told.

Student Liam Fenn, pictured, who downloaded an instructional video on how to make an explosives vest laden with shrapnel, despite being warned by police two years earlier about accessing such material, has been jailed for four years and eight months

Also recovered were a number of books printed in Arabic, including Defence of the Muslim Lands and My Life with the Taliban, as well as a black flag with Arabic writing and various military clothing.

Examination of his devices revealed he had downloaded an ‘enormous volume’ of Islamic extremist material since November 2017, the court was told.

Among the downloads were three videos which provided a detailed demonstration of how to manufacture an explosive vest.

The case bears similarities to that of Louis De Zoysa, the 23-year-old man accused of killing Sgt Matt Ratana at a south London police station last week.

De Zoysa, who is also autistic, suffered from mental health issues which may have triggered a referral to Prevent in 2018, neighbours said. 

Fenn also accessed documents on how to conduct attacks using a vehicle as a weapon, how to prepare for a knife attack and counter-surveillance tactics.

He also posted online a video containing footage of speakers who praised Islamic State and encouraged acts of terrorism.

The defendant was arrested again on March 24, and was subsequently charged with a string of offences.

He refused to comment in police interviews. 

Last month, he pleaded to eight counts of possessing a document likely to be useful to a terrorism and one count of encouraging terrorism on various dates between March 2018 and January this year.

Alex Rose, defending, said his client was suffering from undiagnosed autism at the time of the offences, and had a mental breakdown following the death of his father when he was aged 13.

That led him to finding ‘solace’ in becoming insular as he became obsessional on a number of subjects including religion – starting from Buddhism, moving on to Hinduism and Sikhism, and ending with Islam.

Liam Fenn, 21, from Wigan, Greater Manchester, was sentenced at Manchester Crown Court 

 His questioning nature sent him on a ‘pursuit of truth’ which focused on the more extreme aspects of religion and carried on into terrorist groups such as Islamic State and al Qaida, said Mr Rose.

Sentencing on Tuesday, Judge Patrick Field QC said: ‘It is urged upon me that you became interested in this objectionable material as a consequence of your conversion to Islam and your obsessive interest in that religion.

‘But it is clear to me your interests strayed beyond the purely religious.

‘You started to delve into and to become embroiled in material concerned with and extolling violent Islamic extremism – material that promotes mass murder and glorifies terrorist incidents that have taken place.’

It was accepted Fenn did not act on the information he gathered and had no involvement with others.

But Judge Field told him: ‘I am satisfied that you have shown poor judgment and that you were drawn into this behaviour by your obsessional behaviour.

‘These are, in my judgment, direct consequences of your autism.

‘You are not without responsibility, however, because I am also satisfied that you had an awareness what you was doing was wrong and you were involved in dangerous risk-taking.’

He classified Fenn as an ‘offender of particular concern’ and ordered he must serve an additional 12 months on licence when he is released from custody.

Fenn must also serve two-thirds of his sentence in jail before he can be considered for release by the Parole Board. 

Detective Superintendent Will Chatterton, Head of Investigations at Counter Terrorism Police North West, said: ‘Though Fenn refused to comment throughout all of his interviews with us, the evidence we found was overwhelming and has led to him being jailed. I hope that this shows our absolute determination to keep people safe.

‘Terrorist propaganda can be used as a tool in the radicalisation of others, it’s a real and serious threat which we remain committed to tackling.

‘We are committed to bringing anyone to justice who could pose a risk to the safety of our country – whatever form of extremism they are involved in.’

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