The Malta Independent 14 July 2024, Sunday
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Syrians facing terrorism charges shared jihadist material glorifying martyrdom, court hears

Monday, 15 May 2023, 14:56 Last update: about 2 years ago

Seven Syrian nationals facing a raft of terrorism-related terrorism charges shared jihadist material, including some glorifying martyrdom, to their social media profiles, a court heard on Monday as the case against them began.

Ajil Al Muhsen (21), Adnan Maashi (21), Yazan Abduklaziz (26), Ahmed Kadas (25), Khalil Al Mahmoud (21), Ahmed Ahmed (27), and Mohammed Mohammed (24), all of whom are from Syria, had been arraigned on Sunday 30 April on a range of terrorism-related charges.

They had been arrested the day before following an investigation by the Maltese authorities, which later also involved Europol.

The men are accused of distributing material aimed at inciting acts of terrorism; recruiting or encouraging persons to carry out acts of terrorism or to travel abroad as part of a terrorist plot; receiving and providing training on the use of firearms and explosives specifically for terrorism-related purposes; financing or organising overseas travel for terrorism-related training and disseminating extremist material which supports terrorist activity.

In addition to these charges, the men are also accused of conspiracy to commit a crime, conspiring with persons overseas to commit a crime in Malta, conspiring with an armed group “for the use or or display of physical force in promoting any political objective,” and forming part of a criminal organisation.

The compilation of evidence against them began on Monday.

The sitting began with the prosecution requesting that the names of the police officers who investigated the case are banned from being published for their safety and in order to safeguard the ongoing investigation.

This request was upheld by the court, but a request for the method used in the investigation – which the prosecution said would emerge from testimony – to also be subject to a publication ban was denied by the court over a ‘lack of specificity’ and after objections from the defence.

In testimony, a police inspector noted that the defendants’ social media posts fell within the category of “jihadist terrorism”, which prompted the local authorities to request Interpol’s assistance.

The inspector explains that one of the accused – Ajil Al Muhsen – told police in his statement to them that he had bought his German passport for 400 from Greece and then torn it up after using it, but denied ever making contact with the Islamic State.

However, he was shown photographs from his Instagram profile, which included videos by the terrorist organisation, and acknowledged that the profile was his.  Speeches by jihadist preachers and Islamic State officials which dealt with jihad, martyrdom and Sharia law were found on his social media profile, the inspector testified.

Adnan Maashi meanwhile had uploaded a number of jihadi propaganda posts on his Instagram, captioning one with “forgive if you get news that I am dead. Forgive me and pray for me if I make any mistakes” in Arabic.

Another accused – Mohammed Mohammed – had shared a post accusing the West of conspiring to force Islamic women to remove their veils, and was found to also be in possession of documents publishing the Islamic State’s media arm concerning dealing with Shia Muslims – labelling them as traitors, as being “worse than Christians”, and permitting their killing.

He insisted to police that the documents were planted on his phone, but could not say how or by whom, the court heard.

Ahmed Ahmed meanwhile did not answer when asked about videos praising martyrdom and suicide bombings he had published or shared on his Instagram account.  One such video showed Ahmed and fellow accused Al Muhsed signing a ‘nasheed’ song that had been used in an ISIS propaganda video glorifying martyrdom.

With regards to Khalil Al Mahmoud, the inspector said that Whatsapp chats exchanging intimate photos with a woman in a foreign country were found on his mobile phone, and other photos showed the woman and a young girl wearing the black niqab in front of ISIS flags.

He denied knowing who the woman and child were. Islamic extremist videos were found on his TikTok profile, among them a poem inciting war in Iraq.

Cross-examined, the inspector said that he had not said that the defendants had created the extremist material themselves, but rather had featured in videos praising them.

Defence lawyer Herrera suggested that there was no evidence thus far that the accused had attempted to import weapons or obtain weapons in Malta, but a question on whether the defendants had transferred any money to terrorist organisations was not answered: “Investigations are ongoing and I cannot talk about them,” the inspector said.

A police constable from the Cyber Crime Unit meanwhile testified about the preservation of the material in question from social media.

As the case moved to adjournment, the defence raised that the defendants had not been allowed to communicate with their families since their arrest due to the nature of the charges against them, arguing that this is a breach of their fundamental human rights.

The defence dictated a note to this effect, which the court then ordered to be communicated to the director of the Corradino Prison.

The case will continue on Thursday.

Magistrate Nadine Lia is presiding.

Police inspectors Jeffrey Cutajar and Jean Paul Attard are prosecuting, assisted by lawyers Antoine Agius Bonnici, Francesco Refalo and Rebeca Spiteri from the Office of the Attorney General.

Lawyers Jose Herrera, Alex Scerri Herrera, Matthew Xuereb, Robert Galea and Alicia Borg are the defence counsel.

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