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Thursday, December 06, 2012 

"Possessing a copy of a terrorist publication is a serious offence."

As we've learned this year, taking trolling too far can net you a prison sentence.  Indeed, even expressing your strong personal views on a controversial subject can result in a 240 hour community order, while those who actually did call for you to be killed aren't so much as arrested.

Less well known is that you can be jailed for even longer simply for having a magazine in your possession.  Last year a German national was jailed for 16 months after he was found with a digital copy of Inspire magazine, the English language house journal of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.  Today Ruksana Begum was jailed for a year for having two separate issues of the magazine.

Inspire is notable for that one reason: it's in English, something that the wider media picked up on.  As Thomas Hegghamer pointed out at the time, this in itself wasn't an innovation, as previous jihadi publications had been translated into English, while newsletters had previously been produced in the 90s.  More to the point, most radicalisation isn't so much linked to the written word as it is to videos, which are now often the starting point for those who find themselves attracted to Islamic extremism.  English translations of the feature-length releases from jihadi groups have been around for years.

Nor is the actual content of Inspire anything special.  Wikipedia has a run down of the all the issues released so far, and most of the articles are either by notable leaders of the assorted franchises, doing the usual jihadi wittering unlikely to have an appeal beyond the already convinced, or actively plagiarised from elsewhere.  What it does have that seems to have worried the authorities is the odd do-it-yourself piece, such as the "build a bomb in the kitchen of your mom" article in the first issue, and the "It is of your freedom to ignite a firebomb" in the latest one.  Even then these articles for the most part are highly unlikely to be of use to anyone set on becoming a lone wolf jihadi, such is the usual quality and accuracy of the advice, and it's not as though there aren't dozens of similar documents available online or even from AmazonOnly rarely has possession of these resulted in prosecutions and convictions.

While it's unclear what the German man and his friend were intending to do on their visit to this country, no such ulterior motives have been found in the cases of Begum and Mohammed Abu Hasnath, who was also sentenced to 14 months for possession of Inspire.  Begum's explanation to the court as to why she had two issues on her mobile phone's SD card, that she wanted to attempt to understand what had motivated her brothers to plot to blow up the Stock Exchange, was accepted by the judge, while the worst Hasnath got up to was some grafitti.

It's true that Inspire can certainly be said to fall under Section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000, in that it contains information of a kind likely to be useful to those involved in acts of terrorism.  The same could be said though of a whole myriad of novels and non-fiction works, let alone old army manuals.  Such information is only ever dangerous if those in possession of it have the resources, ingenuity and motivation to use it.  Begum and Hasnath did not, yet they were sentenced to terms of imprisonment that were out of all proportion to the offence.  Amazing as it might seem, you can still find yourself behind bars in 2012 in the United Kingdom for owning a work of literature, however disreputable.

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