Teenager 'used student loan and grant to travel to join IS', court told
A teenager with "lower than average intelligence" used a student loan and grant cash to travel to join Islamic State after getting into university with a forged certificate, a court has heard.
Yahya Rashid, 19, conned his way on to a course at Middlesex University in London before he and four friends from his mosque travelled to the Syrian border via Morocco in February, Woolwich Crown Court was told.
The group were stopped and questioned by police at Gatwick Airport but were subsequently allowed to board their flight to Casablanca, which started a journey that led them eventually to the Turkish border town of Gaziantep, the jury was told.
However, prosecutor Mark Weekes said that while his friends crossed into Syria, where they are believed to remain, Rashid, who was just 18 at the time, changed his mind and returned to Istanbul.
After speaking to his father he went to the British Embassy before being deported by the Turkish authorities and flown back to the UK, where he was arrested on March 31, the court heard.
Mr Weekes told the jury: "By buying a flight with the intention to go to Syria to join the ranks of Islamic State, Mr Rashid was preparing to become involved in terrorism: he was going to join a group who use violence in pursuit of political, religious and ideological - but above all religious - aims."
He added: "It does not matter whether Mr Rashid went into Syria or not. The fact that he changed his mind about this at the last minute is welcome - he did not carry on to join those in IS actively engaged in fighting.
"However, the offence with which you are concerned was complete several weeks previously. The offence, say the prosecution, was complete at the point when he purchased the tickets on lastminute.com.
"That was a preparatory act to going, and when he did it he intended to commit an act or acts of terrorism by fighting alongside IS."
Rashid, of Willesden in north-west London, is charged with engaging in conduct in preparation for committing an act of terrorism, and engaging in conduct with the intention of assisting others to commit acts of terrorism, between November 1 2014 and March 31 2015.
He denies both charges.
The court heard that before Rashid left the UK, his YouTube account had ticked "like" on around 300 YouTube videos, many of them Islamist-themed, although it could not be proved he had personally ticked them. It had also been used to make comments under other videos, including one on the Charlie Hebdo massacre where a comment was left saying: "Allah Akbar (God is great). This makes me happy."
Mr Weekes told the court that on February 25 Rashid, whose family is originally from Somalia, paid £906 for five return flights to Morocco for himself and four others, Khalid Abdul-Rahman, Ibrahim Amouri, Swaleh Mohammed and Mr Mohammed's wife, Deqo Osman, who all attended Wembley Mosque with Rashid.
He paid for the Royal Air Maroc flights using money from a TSB account, the court heard. Mr Weekes added: "That was the account that some money, the student loan and grant, was being paid into. That is how he was able to obtain that cash."
Mr Weekes told the jury that Rashid had left Alperton College in north London with six GCSEs, grades C to E, plus a BTEC Level Two certificate in applied science. He had also been placed on the "special educational needs register" while there.
However, he obtained a fake BTEC Level Three certificate, which was enough to get him into Middlesex University. Mr Weekes said he was regarded as a weak student at the university but had been able to pass some course tests. Rashid has admitted a charge of fraud relating to the certificate, the jury was told.
Mr Weekes added: "The prosecution accepts that the evidence is that he is of lower than average intelligence. But that does not mean that he is incapable of committing an offence, or that he has some special defence to it when it is committed."
The court heard that after being arrested in March, Rashid was questioned at Paddington Green police station.
The court heard that Rashid waived his right to a solicitor before telling officers that he had travelled to Turkey via Morocco and stayed in Gaziantep with the others but changed his mind before crossing the border. The jury was told he had likened joining IS to joining the army.
Mr Weekes said the defence would argue that Rashid should have had an appropriate adult assigned to him because of his low intelligence.
Defence barrister Mark McDonald told the jury that Rashid was "a vulnerable young man exploited by others", with an IQ of between 65 and 70 and what was officially known as a "low cognitive function".
He said that Rashid did not want to fight for IS but simply wanted to live in what he thought was an "Islamic Utopia".
Rashid, he said, had been trying to do the right thing and come home when he was arrested in Turkey, with his father working with the UK police to encourage him to return to London via Facebook messages.
The lawyer told the jury: "There is a difference, a marked difference, between joining the Islamic State army, a military force, and wanting to live in an Islamic society, the propaganda of which is massive on social media.
"Which is why while families and young people have gone over, to live in an Islamic utopia."
Mr McDonald added that Rashid had been very tired when interviewed by British police and had not understood the gravity of the situation he was in.
He also said his client had been denied representation he was allowed by virtue of his low intelligence.
Mr McDonald said: "The (UK) embassy (in Istanbul) did not help him, at the embassy the Turkish police were waiting for him. They arrested him and put him in a detention centre. Early in the morning he was blindfolded and put on a flight back to London."
He added: "What we have here is a young man who was vulnerable, a young man who had a low IQ, a young man who went and changed his mind and came home to be with his family and a young man who is now on trial."
The trial is due to last three weeks.