Court hears Muslim convert was 'snitched on' by wife as he tried to join IS

Ismael Watson
Ismael Watson

A Muslim convert was snared by secret service agents as he tried to join Islamic State after his pregnant wife "snitched" on him, a court heard.

Ismael Watson, 27, from Liverpool, travelled to Turkey but was stopped and sent back to Britain as he tried to cross the border into Syria, the Old Bailey heard.

Watson denies preparation of terrorist acts but, in an unusual move, has refused to attend his trial and has opted to represent himself.

At the start of his trial, Judge Anuja Dhir QC told jurors not to hold it against him that he had chosen not to come to court.

Opening the case, prosecutor Oliver Glasgow QC told jurors how Watson had made preparations to join IS between January last year and February 23 this year.

Mr Glasgow said: "He travelled to Turkey and then made contact with people on the internet who he believed could assist him in crossing the border into Syria.

"Little did he realise that two of the people with whom he discussed his plans were in fact agents working for the security services and that everything he said was being recorded.

"When eventually he tried to cross the border he was intercepted by Turkish authorities, detained by them and then deported back to the UK where he was arrested by the British police on arrival."

Transcripts of his conversations with the agents revealed Watson's hatred for Western society, the court heard.

Mr Glasgow said: "There is no doubt that had he succeeded in his attempts to enter Syria he would have joined IS and that he would have fought for them."

He told jurors the facts were not at issue but the defendant disputes that his actions amounted to a criminal offence and he does not recognise the court.

Born Jack Watson, the defendant came from a non-Muslim family in Liverpool and was described by his mother as "meek, mild and easily influenced".

Following his conversion to Islam, he was "quickly radicalised" and in 2015, he married Sharmina Begum at Green Lane Mosque in Birmingham.

The couple moved into a shared house in Walsall but the relationship broke down by January last year as Watson became increasingly radicalised by watching IS videos, jurors heard.

On January 19 last year, Watson was detained under counter terrorism laws as he boarded an easyJet flight to Marrakech in Morocco from Manchester airport.

The following day, he took another flight to Marrakech from Gatwick airport and instead of returning home, travelled across Europe to Turkey and set about crossing the border.

An undercover security service agent, known as Abumuj, was deployed to find out what Watson was planning to do next.

He was in regular contact with the defendant via SureSpot instant messaging service and Watson described wanting to reach the city of Raqqa in Syria, the court heard.

In a conversation on March 30 last year, the officer asked him if he had been "hot" before he left Britain.

Watson replied: "Yes I was hot. My wife snitched on me and left. While pregnant told them everything..."

On what jobs he wanted to do in Syria, Watson suggested he could help with film-making, proof-reading and cooking.

In April, Abumuj passed him on to another agent, "Abu Hafs", who chatting with him in encrypted Telegram messages.

Watson described himself to Abu Hafs and told how he slicked his hair back to look more Syrian but admitted "can only change face so much".

In April last year, Watson was detained in Turkey for immigration issues but released on condition he reported back every week.

He failed to comply and was detained again in July last year as he attempted to cross into Syria, the court heard.

On February 23, he was deported back to Britain and arrested by West Midlands counter-terrorism officers.

Watson's now-estranged wife, Ms Begum, went to police after she became concerned about his behaviour.

He told her he wanted to go to Syria and described non-Muslims as "pigs", "non-believers" and "kuffar", the court heard.

In police interviews, Watson described the difficulties of growing up with a violent father which led him to drink and drugs.

His mental health suffered and he first became interested in Islam after he was sectioned, he said.

In his first interview, Watson said he started doing voluntary work for a Birmingham charity which sent aid to Syria, and expressed a wish to go out to help.

He described Islamic State as "horrible" and "evil" but later admitted that he felt a duty to defend the proscribed group.

Mr Glasgow said the defendant has admitted the offence for which he is on trial and "put simply, he has no defence".