Court: British supermarket worker planned to join Abu Sayyaf

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Court: British supermarket worker planned to join Abu SayyafA British supermarket worker abandoned his wife and three-year-old daughter to travel to the Philippines and join up with Abu Sayyaf, a court has heard.

Ryan Counsell, aged 28, is accused of spending two years stockpiling bomb-making instructions and equipment.

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On the morning of his arrest in July last year, the family was stopped at Stansted Airport, waiting for a flight to Eindhoven in the Netherlands.

Counsell, who worked at a branch of Asda, had booked a week off work and was due to catch an onward flight to the Philippines two days later.

Police raided his home after they were alerted to online purchases of military equipment.

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He spent nearly £900 on seven occasions, buying items including military-style boots, camouflage clothing, knee and elbow pads, a monocular scope and rifle magazine pouches.

During the raid, police found a suitcase filled with camping equipment and military material in a wardrobe in his daughter’s bedroom.

There was also a small pink notebook in the case, with a handwritten list of equipment headed “Field + Non Field Combined List”.

Next to the suitcase was a set of weighing scales, which showed the suitcase weighed 17 kilos — safely within the 20 kilo limit for his flight to the Philippines.

Cash totalling £3,838.57 was also found in the house, including three bundles of £1,000 in £20 notes.

A Woolwich Crown Court, Dan Pawson-Pounds, prosecuting, said: “The Crown says that this equipment could only have been gathered for one purpose, namely to engage in combat.”

The internet history on Counsell’s mobile phone was said to show a “clear interest in both Islamic State generally and extremist Islamic terrorist activity in the Philippines specifically”.

From May last year, the searches showed a growing interest in terrorism in the Philippines, in particular the activities of Abu Sayyaf, Mr Pawson-Pounds said.

The leader of Abu Sayyaf publically declared allegiance to Islamic State in July 2014.

The group operates from Basilan Island, in the region of Zamboanga, and Counsell had searched for ‘Islamic State Basilan,’ ‘checkpoint Basilan,’ and ‘cheap flights Nottingham to Zamboanga.’

He had also looked up ‘Abu Sayyaf,’ ‘Philippine militants trying to unite with other IS support groups’ and ‘Abu Sayyaf gunmen kill 2 soldiers in Basilan.’

On May 30, just a few days after the research began, Counsell purchased a return ticket from Heathrow to Manila, with a connecting flight to Zamboanga, flying with Philippine Airways on July 13 at a cost of £793.05.

Three days later, he booked coach tickets from Nottingham to Heathrow and also reserved a room for July 15 in the Lantaka Hotel in Zamboanga City.

At 8:20am on the morning of July 11, Counsell’s wife, Fatima Sheik, and their daughter, were stopped at Stansted Airport before they boarded their flight to Eindhoven.

Also found at the defendant’s house were videos made by Abu Sayyaf and so-called Islamic State.

A ‘wealth of Islamic extremist material’ including numerous copies of the al-Qaeda magazine Inspire, the ISIS version called Dabiq, and lectures by extremist preacher Anwar al-Awlaki.

Videos showed the decapitation of prisoners by ISIS, images of dead bodies and documents justifying armed jihad.

Mr Pawson-Pounds said: ‘The Crown say that this material demonstrates that the defendant had a profound and enduring interest in extremist Islam, jihad and the propaganda of Islamic State and other terrorist organisations.’

Police also found two books, one called ‘The Complete Encyclopaedia of Automatic Army Rifles’ and the other, simply ‘Combat.’

Counsell denies preparing acts of terrorism by obtaining information about Islamic terrorist groups in the Philippines, arranging to travel to the Philippines to join and fight for an Islamic terrorist group, and purchasing equipment and clothing for use when having joined such a group.

Counsell also denies possession of electronic documents containing information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.

Among the electronic documents found were 22 copies of ‘Hijrah [migrate] to the Islamic State’ from 2015 which provided practical advice for someone wanting to travel to Syria to join ISIS.

The detailed information included packing lists, advice on how to get through an airport without blowing your cover, what to do if stopped by the authorities in Turkey and pointers on the best mobile phones and SIM cards to take.

The material also included 10 copies of the first edition of the online magazine Inspire, published by al-Qaeda, included an article titled ‘Make a bomb in the kitchen of your Mom’ which showed how to make a homemade pipe bomb. The instructions were said to be ‘clear and easy to follow with helpful photographs’.

There were also several copies of a document titled ‘The mujahid guide: How to survive in the West’ which explained how to function as a terrorist without being caught. Chapter titles included: ‘Earning money: ways to fund Jihad,’ ‘Internet privacy,’ ‘Training,’ ‘Primitive weapons,’ ‘Bomb-making at home,’ and ‘Transporting weapons.’

Interviewed at Bridewell Police Station in Nottingham over the course of three days Counsell accepted downloading the documents but said it was for academic research with a view to countering extremism.

He also claimed that the military equipment was for use in ‘airsoft’, a form of paintballing, although he had only played once, seven years earlier.

Counsell said he was going to Zamboanga to do relief work and denied any intention to join Abu Sayyaf.

Mr Pawson-Pounds described Counsell’s defence as “nonsense”.

The trial is expected to last three weeks.

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