Muslim convert alleged to have been part of IS cell admits terrorism charges

Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Aine Leslie Davis (Elizabeth Cook/PA)
Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Aine Leslie Davis (Elizabeth Cook/PA)

A British Muslim convert once suspected of being a member of a death squad dubbed The Beatles from the so-called Islamic State has pleaded guilty to terrorism charges.

Aine Leslie Davis, 39, was deported from Turkey last August after serving a seven-and-a-half year sentence for membership of IS, a armed terrorist group.

On his arrival at Luton airport, he was detained by British counter-terrorism police and charged with three offences.

Ahead of his planned Old Bailey trial, Davis’ legal team claimed the case should be thrown out because he could not be tried twice for the same offending.

British authorities were also accused of “conniving” with Turkish counterparts in his deportation in a failed bid by the then-Home Secretary Priti Patel to arrange his onward extradition to the US where two other IS Beatles were tried.

In legal argument, defence lawyer Mark Summers KC noted “the spectre” of suspicion around Davis’s involvement with the Beatles cell from 2014 onwards.

It caused Davis to complain about mistreatment in his Turkish jail after he was interviewed about it by British intelligence officers, the court was told.

Mr Summers said that in July last year, lawyers in the IS Beatles case in Virginia clarified they were not seeking to bring a prosecution against Davis “because the evidence was there were only three members and not four members of that cell.”

The barrister claimed Ms Patel veered into “Alice in Wonderland territory” when she phoned authorities in the US begging them to take Davis’s case.

Mr Summers said: “The irregular personal involvement of the Home Secretary trying to persuade a foreign country to prosecute a UK national is frankly extraordinary.”

The prosecution disputed the defence claims which were rejected by Judge Mark Lucraft and later by the Court of Appeal.

On Monday, Davis returned to the Old Bailey and pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm contrary to Section 57 of the Terrorism Act 2000, and two charges of funding terrorism between 2013 and 2014.

The defendant entered his pleas via video link from Belmarsh prison.

Judge Lucraft adjourned sentencing until November 13.

Cash smuggling to Syria court case
Photograph of Aine Davis (left) posing in woods with a man armed with a Kalashnikov (Met Police/PA)

The offences were largely uncovered from his communications with his then-wife, mother-of-two Amal El-Wahabi, 36, who stayed behind in north London living on benefits.

Davis, who used the name Hamza after converting to Islam, was born in the capital and spent time living in Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates in 2007.

He met El-Wahabi at a London mosque and they became increasingly interested in Islam.

In July 2013, he travelled to Syria but maintained regular contact with El-Wahabi by phone and internet.

He went on to enlist her in a plan to send him cash by hoodwinking her friend Nawal Masaad, 36, to act as courier on the promise of 1,000 euros.

Ms Masaad, from Holloway, north London, was stopped at Heathrow Airport on January 16 2014 as she was about to board a flight to Istanbul with 20,000 euros stuffed inside her tights.

The prosecution alleged the money raised in the UK was destined to support Davis’s terrorist cause in Syria.

Following El-Wahabi’s arrest in London, police uncovered a stash of terrorist propaganda said to have been left behind by Davis when he went to Syria.

Cash smuggling to Syria court case
Aine Davis (bottom row, second from right) posing with a gun in Syria (Met Police/PA)

On her mobile phone was a picture sent by Davis in November 2013 in Syrian woods with a man holding a Kalashnikov rifle.

Davis told his wife: “Don’t show this to anyone but yuyu. (sic). I mean it.”

He sent another picture posing with 13 others in military-style clothes, all with guns held aloft.

Asked by El-Wahabi if he was doing anything exciting, Davis said he was just “on point”, which is believed to be a reference to guard duty.

The court heard it was clear that Davis – who had convictions for possession of drugs and gun possession – had gone to Syria to fight under the black flag of IS and that he was preoccupied with martyrdom.

Giving evidence in her trial, El-Wahabi claimed Davis was “always there” for her and had left the country “to get away from everyone and to look for work”.

He was unhappy in London because of “the drugs, the influence of friends he has around him, the police targeting him constantly”, she said.

She added: “With him, his problem is he is always being watched.”

After the Old Bailey trial in 2014, El-Wahabi was found guilty of funding terrorism and jailed for 28 months, while Ms Masaad was cleared of wrongdoing.

El-Wahabi was the first person to be convicted of funding terrorism in Syria.

In November 2015, Davis was arrested with others in Istanbul after being found using a forged travel document and later jailed for IS membership.

Davis has always denied being connected with The Beatles cell – so-called because of their British accents – which tortured and beheaded western hostages in Syria.

Two IS Beatles members, British nationals El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey, are now seving life in US jails.

The third Beatle, Mohammed Emwazi, dubbed Jihadi John, who was believed to feature in shocking videos of IS beheadings of a number of captives, was killed in a drone strike in 2015.