Bedford Man Guilty Of Terror Offences

12 February 2016, 14:37 | Updated: 12 February 2016, 15:17

A Bedford taxi driver who planned to leave his heavily-pregnant wife and young son in Britain and head off for a new life in Syria with a jihadi bride has been found guilty of terror offences.

Naseer Taj, 26, was "caught red-handed" in late December 2014 as he finalised his preparations to join the self-proclaimed Islamic State and achieve martyrdom.

He made no reaction when he was found guilty of preparation of terrorists acts and two counts of possessing terrorist information following a trial at the Old Bailey.

Judge Stephen Kramer told the defendant: "You should have no illusions. The likely sentence will be one of substantial prison.''

Prosecutor Mark Weekes had told jurors of "compelling evidence" of Naseer's sympathies with extremist Islamists and said, if unchecked, he would have gone to fight.

On the morning of December 29 2014, police swooped on Taj's one-bedroom flat in Victoria Road, Bedford, while he and his pregnant wife Rabia Khalique were at home.

He was due to leave the UK two days later, having booked a Eurostar ticket to Brussels and a flight on to Turkey.

Officers discovered the former FedEx worker had a stash of extremist material on his phone, including Al Qaeda Inspire magazines and an article about parcel bombs and UPS and FedEx.

They also seized travel documents and kit for his trip, including factor 50 sun cream, cash, a mosquito net and combat clothes.

The court heard he had already made a "dry run" journey to the Syrian border in Turkey in the summer of 2014 and was in communication with other jihadis.

He was in daily contact with Mohammed Salah Uddin, who went to Syria in November 2014 but was sent back after being detained by Turkish authorities.

He exchanged texts with IS fixer Abu Qaqa - aka Raphael Hostey, from Manchester - and asked him if Iraq was the best place for a quick martyrdom, just days before his arrest.

Meanwhile, he discussed making a woman in Syria called Umm Jibreel his bride to smooth their entry into Raqqa city.

On December 13, he told her "I dnt wanna pressurise u into deciding 100% on marrying me...Keep me posted I'll be waiting (sic)."

She replied: "!!! WALLAHI (by God) there's no pressure...I'v been making istikhara (prayer) about this for a long time (sic)".

Taj was in contact with another man from Bedford, who was due to take the Eurostar on the same day. His home was also searched by police but no further action was taken.

He sent thousands of tweets, using a profile picture of an Al Qaeda leader with a background image of Jihadi John wielding a knife.

In the days before his arrest, he sent more than 1,000 tweets and retweets, with 27% of them referring to Islamic State.

He re-tweeted a message from a user with the profile of the IS flag which read: ``The only way these filthy kuffar (non Muslims) learn is by their head getting cut off.''

On December 15, Taj tweeted: "Oh disbelievers!!! Burn in ur rage and commit suicide the Islamic State is coming 2 u. Watch ur back."

Giving evidence, Taj admitted believing in "defensive" jihad and said he was planning to travel to Syria "for peaceful reasons'' but changed his mind at the last minute. "My reason for going there was because I believed in the caliphate, in Islamic State," he said.

He was cross-examined about alleged instructions to put bombs in FedEx and UPS parcels.

Mr Weekes asked: "You worked for FedEx?"

The defendant, who has a son aged four and an 11 month-old daughter, replied: "Yes, I was made redundant in August 2011. I was on jobseekers' and looking for jobs."

The prosecutor pressed: "It's just a coincidence that there is an article dealing with UPS and FedEx and planning to put bombs in packages and you working for FedEx, is it?"'

The defendant said: "I didn't know about this."

He claimed he did not download the article until after he left FedEx and had not read the extremist material, found on his computer and phone.

He told jurors: "I'm not a reader, I like to read but I don't read because I can't be bothered."

A jury deliberated for a day and a half to find Taj guilty of preparing terrorist acts between November 2 2014 and May 11 2015.

He was also convicted on two charges of possessing information likely to be useful to a terrorist in relation to editions of the al Qaida magazine Inspire and possessing a false driving licence.

The jury was not told that during the course of the trial, Uddin, 29, from Barking in Essex, had been jailed for seven years at Woolwich Crown Court for travelling to Syria to fight with IS.

The defendant was remanded in custody to be sentenced on April 1.