Kevin, 25, could even be jailed for bat­tling Is­lamic State

Sunday Mail (UK) - - Front Page - Lau­ren Crooks

An ex- sol­dier who helped clear Is­lamic State out of Raqqa could face ter­ror charges af­ter re­turn­ing to Scot­land.

Kevin Ben­ton spent eight months on the front­line of the war on ter­ror in Syria. He was shot twice, nar­rowly avoided be­ing blown up by a sui­cide bomber and saw com­rades killed.

The 25-year-old re­turned to his home in Kelso, Roxburghshire, last month – and he was in­ter­ro­gated for hours by counter-ter­ror­ism de­tec­tives on his ar­rival at Heathrow.

Now he is wait­ing to find out if he will face charges un­der the Ter­ror­ism Act which could see him jailed for trav­el­ling to the war­zone.

Kevin, who served for four years in the Royal Reg­i­ment of Scot­land, joined the ranks of Kur­dish mili­tia YPG. They work with the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces, whose mis­sion to over­throw IS was backed by US-led spe­cial forces and air strikes.

The Y PG are not a banned ter­ror group – but they are closely al­lied to Kur­dish PKK, who are.

Kevin said: “As soon as the plane landed, the trans­port po­lice were there and I was ar­rested un­der the Ter­ror­ism Act. I was ques­tioned in the of­fice for a cou­ple of hours.

“They gave me a pat-down search and went through all my stuff. I had prayer beads but it’s be­cause I’m a fid­get and I like to play with them.

“The of­fi­cers asked if I was re­li­gious or po­lit­i­cal. “I just ex­plained the rea­sons I was out there and what I’d ac­tu­ally been do­ing from start to fin­ish.

“They took my phone and went through my pho­tos and videos.

“Then of­fi­cers con­tacted coun­tert­er­ror­ism po­lice be­cause of a video of me on a pa­trol.

“In it, I turn round and there’s a sui­cide car com­pletely cov­ered in steel com­ing to­wards us.

“You can’t see any­thing, just my ri­fle. I fire three shots then run down an al­ley­way and two min­utes later, it blows up.

“That’s seen as a ter­ror­ist act – that’s why they con­tacted them.

“I was taken from the air­port to a po­lice sta­tion just out­side Heathrow where I was stripsearched and ques­tioned a bit more.”

Kevin ar­rived home on Oc­to­ber 19 af­ter pleas to re­turn from mum Pamela and dad Iain. He was re­leased on bail on the con­di­tion that he did not leave the UK and stayed at home with his par­ents. He was due to re­turn to Lon­don to­mor­row to find out whether he would be for­mally charged. But late last week, he was told his case was be­ing re­ferred to Po­lice Scot­land. Kevin now faces an anx­ious wait as they con­tinue their in­ves­ti­ga­tion – but he said: “I’m quite happy in a way that the po­lice are tak­ing this se­ri­ously.

“I’d pre­fer it if this hap­pened to ev­ery­one be­cause then I know the po­lice are do­ing their job and I feel safe in my own coun­try.

“I went to help and I want to help the po­lice too. I will tell them the truth – any­thing they need to know.”

Kevin de­cided to join the YPG af­ter see­ing Net­flix doc­u­men­tary The Brits

I had prayer beads be­cause I fid­get – po­lice asked if I was re­li­gious

Bat­tling Isis. He said: “I was watch­ing it think­ing, ‘ These boys aren’t even sol­diers. I know I could be help­ful.’

“Two weeks later, I was there. I joined the YPG In­ter­na­tional.

“I just joined them as a bod – I wasn’t go­ing to do any­thing spe­cial – but then I saw them train­ing and thought they were guys who were go­ing to die.

“I stepped up and helped with the train­ing – how to clear rooms prop­erly, how to ap­proach a build­ing, how to scan your hori­zons, med­i­cal train­ing, how to drive – all things I learned through the Army and close pro­tec­tion.

“None of the guys there were sol­diers, they were just peo­ple who cared.”

Kevin and his fel­low fighters spent their nights clear­ing the streets of Raqqa of booby traps and push­ing for­ward to re­claim IS ter­ri­tory.

He was al­most killed sev­eral times – in­clud­ing once where he got shot in the arm and the leg in an IS am­bush.

Oth­ers weren’t so lucky – for­mer IT worker Jac Holmes, of Bournemouth, died while clear­ing land­mines in Raqqa last month. Kevin said: “I saw three friends killed when I was out there and Jac was killed re­cently.

“Jac was in the sniper team and I was in the push­ing team so we would be in the same area and see each other a lot.

“The west­ern­ers al­ways spoke to each other. It was hard to hear he died.”

De­spite the carnage in Raqqa, Kevin said he was never really scared.

He added: “I loved be­ing there. There were times when I was ner­vous but I would sing songs f rom the Guardians of the Gal­axy sound­track while I worked.

“I’ve been to Afghanistan and Sierra Leone – I have seen a lot of death.

“I saw some hor­rif ic in­juries in Raqqa but there were also some really hor­ri­ble scenes with peo­ple be­ing forced from their homes into refugee camps.

“The YPG do the peace sign, whereas IS do a one-fin­ger salute up to Al­lah.

“Some really young kids copied IS be­cause they were brain­washed – and their par­ents were grab­bing their hands and try­ing to make them do the peace sign in­stead.

“Peo­ple there didn’t have an op­tion, they’d been stuck with IS and needed to live by their rules or be killed.

“When I ar­rived, there were huge refugee camps. When I was leav­ing, there were none. Ev­ery­body went back to their homes. It was amaz­ing to see.

“I saw a woman rip her burka off, she was buzzing. An­other older woman gave me her gold bracelet.

“She was cry­ing with hap­pi­ness, singing and danc­ing in the streets. It was un­be­liev­able to watch.”

A spokesman for New Scot­land Yard said: “A 25-year-old man was ar­rested at Heathrow Air­port on 17 Oc­to­ber.

“He was stopped un­der sched­ule 7 of the Ter­ror­ism Act at the air­port af­ter dis­em­bark­ing a f light from Cairo, Egypt. He was sub­se­quently ar­rested un­der sec­tion 5 of the Ter­ror­ism Act.

“He was later re­leased un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

CA­SU­ALTY US pal Nick War­den was killed BROTH­ERS IN ARMS Kevin Ben­ton with a Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces unit SUS­PECT Kevin could face charges

MEDIC First Aid-trained Kevin cleans an SDF fighter’s wound WORLDS APART Kevin at home with his mum Pamela and, above right, clear­ing Raqqa of IEDs

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