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Twitter user who praised French teacher’s killer found guilty of terror offences

Ajmal Shahpal was found guilty at Birmingham Crown Court after claiming his tweets were an attempt to gain more social media followers.

Birmingham Crown Court

A Twitter user has been convicted of two charges of encouraging terrorist acts after posting an image of a terrorism victim’s severed head, while urging others to decapitate those who insult Islam.

Ajmal Shahpal was found guilty on Monday at Birmingham Crown Court of sending tweets which would encourage others “to commit, prepare, or instigate acts of terrorism”.

The 41-year-old, of Birkin Avenue, Radford, Nottingham, had denied the offences despite praising the killer of French school teacher Samuel Paty for being “as brave as a lion”.

Jurors deliberated for around five hours before convicting Shahpal by majority verdicts of one count of intentionally encouraging terrorist acts and one of doing so recklessly.

He was cleared of a third charge of encouraging acts of terrorism.

After the verdicts, Judge Melbourne Inman KC rejected a bail application and remanded Shahpal in custody for sentence on April 13.

The judge told him: “You have been convicted of two offences. Obviously I will have to decide what the sentence is in due course, but a custodial sentence is inevitable for this type of offence.

“In the circumstances therefore, you will be remanded in custody pending your sentence.”

A two-week trial was told Shahpal was arrested at his home in March 2021 after tweeting messages backing a Pakistan-based political party which supported the “out-of-hand murder of those who it thinks have committed blasphemy”.

Opening the Crown’s case against Shahpal at the start of the trial, prosecutor Dan Pawson-Pounds said: “This is a case about terrorism, that is the encouragement by this defendant of others to commit acts of terrorism.

“He did that by publishing tweets on his Twitter account which specifically encouraged others to behead those who he believed had insulted his religion, his religion being Islam.”

Jurors were told Shahpal, originally from Kashmir, sent some of the tweets on his open account on September 26 2020, a day after Charlie Hebdo’s former office in Paris was targeted for a second time by Islamic extremist Zaheer Hassan Mehmood.

Mehmood’s stabbing attack was “both vicious and incompetent” and came five years after 12 people were killed in an attack on Charlie Hebdo’s offices, the court heard.

The court was also told he expressed support for extremists who had attacked those he viewed as blasphemers, including Mr Paty, who was killed on October 16 2020.

He also saw fit to tweet an image of the severed head of Mr Paty lying on the street, saying that “the insolent had been sent to hell”.

Further tweets said that whoever insulted Islam should be killed, and threatened the French government.

During his evidence, Shahpal claimed he was retweeting other people’s views “just to have some more followers”.

He told jurors he did not know he had retweeted a picture of Mr Paty’s severed head, claiming: “At the time I did not know what picture it was that I was retweeting.

“A friend of mine who set up this account for me, he told me that if you do this, you are going to get more followers.”

Questioned about a further tweet which called for rapists to be stoned to death, Shahpal said it did not accord with his beliefs and he had “just copied and pasted” a message written in English “because the issue was ongoing” in Pakistan.

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