UK

Man accused of Syria bid 'fleeing MI5 harassment'

Old Bailey Image copyright PA
Image caption The Old Bailey has heard that an undercover police officer discovered the alleged plan to secretly leave the country

A man accused of trying to smuggle himself out of the UK to fight in Syria says he was trying to escape MI5 harassment, a court has been told.

Anas Abdalla was arrested last April in the back of a lorry at Dover.

He told the Old Bailey he did not support the so-called Islamic State, and had paid smugglers to take him to Europe so he could live in peace.

He and Mahamuud Diini, both 26 and from Birmingham, deny preparing for acts of terrorism.

Mr Abdalla accepts that he tried to secretly leave the country in the back of a lorry - and the trial had earlier heard that the plan was discovered by an undercover officer who had infiltrated alleged jihadist networks in Birmingham.

That officer told the court he came across Mr Abdalla and another man, Gabriel Rasmus, as part of an investigation that went on for almost a year.

Rasmus has admitted preparing for acts of terrorism. He was found in the same lorry as Mr Abdalla and Mr Diini.

'Distrustred' MI5

The court heard that Mr Abdalla has previously suffered from mental illness and had once attempted suicide.

During his evidence on Friday, he blamed his ill health and clandestine behaviour on pressure from MI5 and West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit detectives.

The jury heard that in February 2013 West Midlands detectives told him to come to Stechford Police Station in Birmingham, and he was taken to an hour-long meeting with an MI5 officer, known only as "Phil".

That officer allegedly proposed that the former student work for the Security Service.

Somalia-born Mr Abdalla told the jury: "I sat down and he said, 'I know everything about you… we know you're not someone who is a terrorist, we want you to work with us.' I said I don't really believe in the cause of MI5."

The former student and car industry worker said he distrusted MI5 because he had read that its officers were complicit in the alleged torture of another Somali Briton in east Africa.

"Why should I trust you guys?" Mr Abdalla recalled asking the officer. "He said that there were two ways around this. 'You are going to work for us one way or another or we will make your life difficult.'"

Phone calls

Mr Abdalla said that in the months after his refusal to help MI5 he had received a barrage of "number withheld" phone calls which he didn't answer, but he knew came from the agency.

He became convinced he was being watched and would prove it to friends by using counter-surveillance techniques, such as suddenly changing direction, to demonstrate he was being followed.

In earlier evidence, two police officers told the jury they could neither confirm nor deny whether they were involved in facilitating any meetings between MI5 and the defendant.

The trial continues.