A MAN WHO admitted sending funds to Islamic State was in contact with “medium to high level” operatives in the international terrorist group, and tried to travel to Syria to fight in the ongoing war, has been jailed for two and a half years.
In the first prosecution of its kind in this country, 26-year-old Hassan Bal from Waterford admitted to unlawfully transferring €400 for use by Isis and attempting to collect money for the group.
His activities were detected following a newspaper sting and an investigation by a number of police forces.
At Waterford Circuit Court today, Judge Eugene O’Kelly found that the accused had the confidence of “significant members” of Isis and had proven his credentials to them by attempting to travel to Syria to join them.
He sentenced Hassan Bal, formerly of O’Connell Street in Waterford, to four and a half years in prison, with two years suspended, for attempting to collect funds for Isis. The suspensions were on the condition that he remains “totally disassociated” with any group promoting “a radical view of Islam”.
The investigation started in 2015 when an investigative journalist with the Daily Mail in London, Omar Wahid, created an account on the Kik social media network and made contact with Omar Hussain, known in the UK as ‘the supermarket jihadi’, with the intention of giving Omar the impression there was money available for Isis, Superintendent Anthony Pettit told the court.
The journalist received a message to say Isis was “desperate for money” to assist with its expansion of activities in Syria. In the same message, Omar Hussain told the journalist to contact an Abu Issa Amriki, a jihadist based in Isis-controlled Syria.
The journalist did this via Kik and after a number of communications, Amriki eventually suggested he contact a “brother” who was in the UK.
A few days later, the journalist was given the name of an individual, Abu Abdul Rahman Britani, which was a name being used on Kik by Hassan Bal.
He made contact with Bal and a total of 435 messages were exchanged. Bal had a brother in London called Omar Bal, and an arrangement was made with the journalist by Hassan Bal whereby the journalist would make a drop-off of money in an envelope at a builder’s merchant in London, which would be collected by Hassan Bal’s brother. The latter had no knowledge of what was going on and simply thought he was doing his brother a favour.
The journalist contacted the Metropolitan Police in London just after the drop-off was made. The envelope did not contain money, but instead had a street guide “to bulk it up”.
The investigations which followed were “necessarily trans-jurisdictional and complex,” Superintendent Pettit said, and led to Hassan Bal’s address in Waterford. Bal was arrested on 22 December 2015.
After the drop-off didn’t include any money, the journalist involved received various messages from a number of people, including Hassan Bal, “giving out” and saying that he had “taken him for a ride”. Some of the messages were “threatening in nature”.
One message found on Bal’s phone after his arrest said “I swear brother, get me some toys and I will go straight to the Daily Mail”. There was also a photo of him in combat dress with an imitation pistol.
Gardaí found a Western Union money transfer slip in his bedroom for the amount of €400 and dating from 2 October 2015.
While being interviewed by gardaí in December 2015, Hassan Bal accepted he had arranged the drop-off but said the money wasn’t intended for Isis.
His phone also had a document containing guidelines for travelling to Syria as well as propaganda videos showing executions and suicide bombs.
The accused was arrested again on 27 April 2017. More contents from his phone were put to him and he accepted that the money was meant to be used for fighting in Syria. Both Omar Hussain and Abu Issa Amriki were “prominent members of Isis.”
While being questioned by Giolliosa O Lideadha SC, defending, Superintendent Pettit said the two people Hassan Bal was in contact with were at a “medium to high level within [Isis]”.
Hassan Bal pleaded guilty in January at the circuit court to unlawfully transferring €400 by means of an An Post/Western Union transaction to a Stevo Maksimovic in the Bosnian city of Brako on 2 October 2015.
This was done with him intending or knowing that the money would be used in whole or in part for the benefit of Islamic State.
He also pleaded guilty to communicating by phone with an intermediary in London on 23 October 2015, in an attempt to collect or receive cash for Islamic State, from a person known to him as Omar Abu Azid, at an address at Geron Way, London.
Both charges are contrary to Section 13 of the Criminal Justice Act (Terrorist Offences) of 2005 and the maximum sentence is 20 years in prison.
In a letter written to the court, the accused said: “I don’t know how to put into words how deeply sorry I am for what I have done, and how remorseful”. After his arrest he said he “came to my senses,” he said. “My eyes started to open and I saw what I was doing was wrong and that my actions didn’t aid the Syrian people”. He appealed to the judge:
My life is in your hands.
He wanted to become a “positive” influence, against the use of violence, his lawyer said.
The court heard that Hassan Bal was a “valued member” of the Islamic community in Waterford.
“It is in the public interest that Hassan Bal is rehabilitated into society on his release,” Judge Eugene O’Kelly said. “He will face many challenges re-asserting himself into daily life, but the hope is that he will be able to participate fully in society.”