Barber shop owner sent COVID grant money to Islamic State fighters, court hears

A barber shop owner sent £25,000 to Islamic State (IS) fighters in Syria after claiming thousands of pounds in COVID grants, a court has heard.

Tarek Namouz, 43, from west London, had received money from the government to assist his business, Boss Crew Barbers, during the coronavirus pandemic, and lived in a third-floor flat above the shop.

He is accused of sending money on at least seven separate dates between November 2020 and April 2021, which was intended to fund a militia in Syria, Kingston Crown Court heard.

When police raided the barber's shop in Blythe Road, Olympia, prosecutors say they found cash and a hidden mobile phone containing messages to a contact in Syria, an IS bomb-making video and a video showing how to kill with a knife.

In the months leading up to his arrest, he is said to have transferred money using Trust Money Transfers on Edgware Road, sending it to Syria, where he had lived until he was aged 14.

John McGuinness KC, prosecuting, told the jury he would give cash to the bureau where it would be converted into Syrian pounds and sent overseas to a man called Yahya Ahmed Alia.

Officers identified seven transfers between November 2020 and April 2021, for a total of about £11,280.

"The prosecution say the seven sums set out were not the only money sent out, there was other money sent for which the prosecution does not have any records," Mr McGuinness said.

During a bugged conversation in August 2021 with a friend who was visiting him in prison after his arrest, Namouz allegedly said police knew about some of the transfers but did not know he had transferred more and referred to sending £25,000 to the same man in Syria.

A hidden phone containing IS propaganda

When Namouz's barber shop was raided by police, on 25 May last year, a Samsung Galaxy 10 mobile phone was found underneath a bottom drawer, the court heard.

On the phone, officers found encrypted Whatsapp messages that showed Namouz and Alia were "both committed to the Islamic extremist culture of Islamic State and the reason he sent money to Ahmed was for terrorism, to further terrorism in Syria," Mr McGuinness said.

The messages included references to plots of land and using the money to buy a building or construct a building that would be used to sell food as well as for "terrorist purposes", Mr McGuinness said.

There was "talk of people occupying the building that the prosecution say were Islamic State fighters, and of storing weapons," he added.

The court heard the phone also had the encrypted Telegram app which had been used to receive IS propaganda and instructional material including a video showing how to make explosive substances, and another showing an IS fighter demonstrating assassination techniques using a knife.

WhatsApp about striking the necks of non-believers

Namouz does not dispute he made the transfers but initially claimed he had sent money out to help those who were "poor and needy" in Syria, the jury was told.

On the hidden phone, police discovered a series of WhatsApp messages between Namouz and his Syrian contact in which he spoke of striking at the necks of non-believers and causing chaos, the court heard.

On 15 May he received a message from Alia saying they had three Kalashnikov assault rifles and another gun, adding: "We're in an excellent situation now."

In a message on 21 May, Namouz said: "Just stay calm and be patient, we will take control of all people by force and by the ruling of the shariah law and whoever is not happy can get lost."

Alia responded: "Whoever is not happy - a bullet in their head."

"Striking the necks," Namouz said. "Slaughtering with the knife. I swear to Allah, we will cause chaos."

The trial continues.