A Mail on Sunday investigation has uncovered evidence that appears to place Cage director and former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg at the same Syrian training camp as Mohammed Emwazi – the real name of Jihadi John – in late 2012.
Emwazi later joined Islamic State (ISIS) and began the murderous campaign which has seen the beheading of five Western hostages.
Official sources have confirmed to The Mail on Sunday the existence of a photograph of Mr Begg with a Syrian camp commander, who also appears in a video with a man believed to be Jihadi John, apparently taken at the same camp.
The picture was part of police evidence against Mr Begg in a trial last October at the Old Bailey, when he was charged with attending a terrorist training camp in Syria between October 2012 and April 2013.
In the photograph, Mr Begg is sitting around a table with Abu Omar Al-Shishani, who was then leader of the militant group Katibat Al-Muhajireen (KaM), and British jihadi Rabah Tahari with other militants, apparently sipping coffee. The photo was apparently taken at the group’s camp in Northern Syria in December 2012.
A source, who did not want to be named, said: ‘The picture definitely puts Begg in Syria. There were other individuals in the same photo, and they all looked like militants rather than ordinary people.’
The photograph was never produced in court and its existence has not been acknowledged until now. The trial collapsed within days of opening, due to new evidence being given by MI5 to the Crown Prosecution Service which apparently made the likelihood of a conviction unlikely.
Months after Mr Begg’s photo with Al-Shishani was taken, a two-minute video was filmed of a masked man believed to be Emwazi, apparently at the same camp, also with Al-Shishani.
When approached last week, Mr Begg denied knowing Emwazi in Syria and denied being at the camp, before driving off from his £500,000 home in Birmingham.
The video apparently featuring Emwazi appeared on the internet last month. In it, he gives a speech as red-bearded Al-Shishani stands behind him. Emwazi announces the merger of KaM with another militant group called Jaish Al-Muhammad. The new bigger group would be called Jaish Al-Muhajireen wal Ansar (JMA), and would be led by Al-Shishani, the masked figure announces.
In late 2013, Al-Shishani defected from JMA to take up a commander role within Islamic State. Al-Shishani took half of JMA’s fighters with him, believed to have included Emwazi.
Months later, Emwazi would become one of the world’s most wanted men, after beheading five Western hostages on camera, including Britons Alan Henning, 47, and David Haines, 44.
Emwazi’s training at KaM in late 2012 and early 2013 suggests an overlap with Mr Begg’s travels in northern Syria at the same time.
After his trial collapsed, Mr Begg gave an interview to The Guardian, where he admitted to training recruits at a camp in Idlib, North-West Syria. The training included exercises using fake wooden guns.
Separately, in the same month, Mr Begg’s colleague and friend at Cage, Cerie Bullivant, gave an interview to the Foreign Policy journal. Mr Bullivant told the magazine that Mr Begg stayed at a camp called Jaish Al-Muhajireen wal Ansar (the outfit previously known as Katibat Al-Muhajireen) which was run by Al-Shishani.
Rafaello Pantucci, a Syria expert at the think-tank RUSI, said: ‘It is very likely that Emwazi was at the KaM camp because his friends also went there. ‘It is also likely from the evidence of the photograph that Moazzam Begg was linked to the same camp. So Moazzam Begg should reveal what interactions he has had with this camp or other camps.’
A spokesman for Cage said: ‘Cage reiterates its position that the last contact we had with Mr Emwazi was in 2012 over email.’
Last night, Birnberg Peirce & Partners, the law firm acting for Mr Begg, said: ‘Mr Begg at no time ever met Mohammed Emwazi; he knew nothing of his existence in Syria or anywhere else. He, Mr Begg, did not train at the Katibhat Al-Muhajireen camp.’