Aine Lesley Davis, one of the British jihadis who brutalised and beheaded western hostages in Syria, has been convicted in Turkey on terrorism charges and jailed for seven and a half years.
Davis, 35, is suspected by western intelligences services of being a member of the cell – along with Mohammed Emwazi, also known as Jihadi John – that oversaw the beheadings of hostages including the British aid workers Alan Henning and David Haines and the US journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley.
He was found guilty at a court in Silivri, a town 45 miles west of Istanbul, of being a member of a terror organisation. Officials believe he had been plotting an attack in Turkey. The UK Foreign Office said it was aware of his conviction.
Davis, a former driver and drug dealer from west London who went to Syria in 2013, reportedly told a BBC journalist to “fuck off” when asked to comment on the verdict.
According to the BBC, Davis was asked in court about his involvement with the terror cell and denied involvement. “I am not Isis. I went to Syria because there was oppression in my country,” he said.
Speaking in English before the verdict, he told the court: “I want to make clear I am innocent of the charges. I don’t even know why this case has taken so long to judge. I just want my freedom.”
Officials in Ankara had been adamant that Davis would be prosecuted in Turkey rather than extradited to the UK or the US, an interest expressed by both countries after he was captured in 2015.
I asked Aine Davis his reaction to the verdict in the court in Silivri. He said "f*** off."— Daniel Sandford (@BBCDanielS) May 9, 2017
Along with two other Britons, Alexander Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, Davis and Emwazi formed a quartet of killers nicknamed “The Beatles” who are thought to have killed and tortured more than two dozen hostages. Davis is the only one to have been brought to justice to date. Kotey and El Sheikh’s whereabouts are unknown.
Emwazi, the masked executioner who paraded orange-clad hostages on camera, was killed by a US drone strike in Syria more than a year ago. Davis and Emwazi used to pray at the same west London mosque. British intelligence officers say there is no doubt about Davis’s allegiance to Isis.
Davis is thought to have converted to Islam shortly after being jailed in the UK in 2006 for possessing a firearm. He took the name Hamza and travelled the Middle East. He is believed to have travelled to Syria in late 2012 where he fought under the black flag of Islamic State.
He was detained in Turkey in November 2015 on suspicion of planning attacks in Istanbul similar to those in Paris that targeted the Bataclan theatre, the Stade de France and cafes and restaurants. However, prosecutors offered no evidence to support the claims.
An indictment prepared by the Silivri chief prosecutor’s office said Davis had managed to enter Turkey despite an entry ban having been in place against him since March 2012. On 7 November 2015, after spending more than three years in Syria, he was smuggled back into Turkey near the town of Kilis with the help of two men named as senior Isis members active along the border.
One of them, Ilhami Bali, is accused of being behind a bombing in Ankara in October 2015 that killed more than 100 people. He had used the encrypted application Telegram – a go-to tool for Isis members – to communicate.
Turkish officials said Davis’s phone signal was tracked as he made his way to Istanbul through Karkamis, Gaziantep, Konya and Ankara. The indictment said he contacted a Palestinian terror suspect known as Abu Walid 15 times before moving in with him in Silivri.
According to court records, the owner of the house, Faisal Faridi, was affiliated with the al-Qaida-inspired group Jabhat al-Nusra, and left for New York before Davis arrived.
The indictment made no mention of Davis’s time in Syria, during which he allegedly guarded and tortured aid workers and journalists who were held hostage for ransom. A third Briton, photojournalist John Cantlie, is still being held by the group.
Hostages released by the Isis cell, among them three Spanish and three French journalists, have spoken of being subjected to frequent beatings and deprivation, mock executions and almost relentless cruelty. Davis took part in many of the beatings, two of the survivors have confirmed to the Guardian.
In 2014 Davis’s wife, Amal El-Wahabi, 27, became the first woman to be jailed for terrorism offences connected to Syria after she was caught paying a smuggler to take €20,000 in cash to Turkey for her husband.
Sentencing her at the Old Bailey, the judge said she “knew he was engaged in violence with guns for extremist religious and ideological reasons”.
The court heard that Davis sent his wife a video of Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaida preacher, proclaiming “martyrdom is a gift and a blessing from the lord of the universe and not a loss”, and another about the shame and disgrace of those who avoided jihad.
As military pressure on Isis intensifies, foreign fighters who joined the so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria have increasingly been fleeing. Western officials believe some intend to cross back into Europe to launch terror attacks.
Turkey has been increasingly targeted by jihadists who have spent time in Syria. One of them, Abdulkadir Masharipov, an Uzbek citizen, also faced court on Tuesday charged with killing 39 people in an Istanbul nightclub on New Year’s Eve.