A man whose “life became the stuff of nightmares” after he refused to become an MI5 informant has been convicted of preparing to join ISIS fighters in Syria.
Anas Abdalla – a Somali born British national – was found hiding behind canisters in a lorry in Dover in an attempt to smuggle himself out of the UK in April 2015. He says he was trying to flee years of harassment by security services.
The guilty verdict came by a majority of 11 to one after 19 hours and 30 minutes of deliberation. He will be sentenced at a later date. It is the fourth time Abdalla has been put on trial for the same terrorist offence. His conviction only came after the prosecution changed its position of neither confirming nor denying Abdalla’s allegations of “oppressive treatment” at the hands of counter-terrorism officers.
Evidence was given in secret by MI5 which challenged Abdalla’s account of their dealings with him. Abdalla alleges that MI5 promised his life would be thrown off course if he refused to work for them.
Aballa, a former asylum seeker, is not the first person to have evidence against him heard in a secret court, where neither media nor public had access.
Secret trials have been a concern for human rights activists and justice campaigners in the UK before and increasingly since they were introduced by the Justice and Security Bill in 2013.
While being remanded Abdalla threw a plastic cup at a counter-terrorism officer and said: “One day we will be standing in a bigger court than this.”
Abdalla, 26, came to the UK in 1989, eventually settling in Birmingham. He was granted leave to remain in 2011. He studied IT at Wolverhampton University but dropped out in 2010.
He found himself on the police’s radar when he was stopped carrying a computer belonging to Ahmed Diini who was later imprisoned in Egypt. (Diini claims to have been tortured in May 2014 by Egyptian security officers whilst being questioned by MI5).
The court heard Abdalla was regularly stopped at airports and ferry terminals under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act. At one point he told officers: “I wish I was in Somalia: better to be killed and know your enemy.”
Abdalla believes harassment from the security services led to the breakdown of his relationship with his girlfriend, the suspension of his bank card and job losses. His barrister, Rajiv Menon QC, told the jury: “This is the stuff of nightmares from which there is no escape. This is what happens when you are targeted by the security services and decline to cooperate.”
Abdalla denies the charge of preparing acts of terrorism. His lawyer said he had been planning to slip unnoticed out of the UK and move to Bulgaria, where his cousin was studying. He had previously been convicted of fraud. His lawyer said this was because the harassment had made finding work difficult and he was desperate to raise money to flee the country. When released from prison in February 2013 Abdalla said he’d receive calls from MI5 up to ten times day for 18 months asking him to join them.
Many British Muslim men say they have suffered harassment by MI5 in attempts to recruit them as informants. They say MI5 tell them if they refuse they will be accused of terrorism or related offences.