Convicted terrorist who attempted to leave UK to join jihadists blames Brexit

Rachael Pells
Ryan Counsell, the supermarket worker who has been jailed after planning to join a group linked to Islamic State in the Philippines: PA

A convicted terrorist who left his wife and young family to fight in the Philippines has blamed Brexit for his behaviour.

Ryan Counsell, 28, said he wished to escape the UK political climate and seek an “idyllic life” under Sharia law.

He was in the final stages of planning his trip to fight with terrorist group Abu Sayyaf when he was arrested last July, and later sentenced to eight years in prison.

Speaking to Woolwich Crown Court, Counsell, who worked at an Asda supermarket in Nottingham, claimed there had been increased tension within the local Muslim community after the Brexit vote, sparking his decision to leave.

He was convicted last month on three counts of possessing documents with terrorist material, and one count of engaging in conduct in preparation of terrorist acts.

During his four-week trial, a jury head how Counsell spent almost £900 on military-style boots, camouflage clothing, Kevlar boxer shorts and a cheek pag to be attached to the stock of a rifle “to engage in combat”.

Counsell had also booked a return ticket from London to Manila an a connecting flight to Zamboanga, 20 miles from Basilan where Isis allegiance groups are situated.

Abu Sayyaf wounded 14 Philippine soldiers on Friday and a German hostage was beheaded on Sunday.

The father-of-two, who worked as a floor assistant at his local supermarket, was arrested at Stansted Airport on 11 July while waiting for a flight to Eindhoven.

He had booked a week off work and was not expecting to return.

His barrister John Kearney said Counsell was “a bit odd” but not violent or an extremist.

Mr Kearney said: “He wanted to leave the UK to live a humble, simple life, in a Muslim community. He discussed going to Somalia. He considered going to Bosnia, and he considered the Philippines.

“He wanted to live in a community under Sharia law with what he saw as an idyllic way of life.”

“After Brexit there were divisions in his community in Nottingham, he was concerned about the way ordinary people were reacting to ordinary Muslims. So with that background he was looking for a different way of life.

“He was convicted on the basis that was what he intended to do but it’s not something he would have been able to do. I repeat that for him to join that group, the idea is quite frankly absurd.”

Conducting a search of Counsell’s home last year, police found military and camping equipment and a ‘wealth of Islamic extremist material’, including copies of the al-Qaeda magazine Inspire, Isis magazine Dabiq, and lectures by Anwar al-Awlaki, an influential extremist preacher.

Bomb-making instructions were also discovered at the property, along with a document of practical advice for travelling to join Isis and videos showing hostage decapitations.

“The defendant had a profound and enduring interest in extremist Islam, jihad and the propaganda of Islamic State and other terrorist organisations,” said Prosecutor Dan Pawson-Pounds.

Counsell claimed his interest in moving to the Philippines was prompted by watching television presenter Ben Fogle’s ‘Lives in the Wild’ series about the islands.

He described his interests as religion, conspiracy theories, history, and military equipment, along with “wanting to live off-the-grid, so to speak – living without connection to electricity or gas in a caravan or a tent”.

The court heard Counsell’s pregnant wife, Fatima, had been “sceptical” about his activities.

Judge Andrew Lees told Counsell: “In those circumstances together with your ongoing interest in Islamic extremism and researches into Abu Sayyaf and Basilan, and the fact that you had reserved a hotel in Zamboanga City, I am sure you would have gone.”

“I am prepared to accept that it may have been difficult and personally dangerous for you to join Abu Sayyaf, but, in my judgement there is no doubt that you were intending to seek out and join Abu Sayyaf and participate in their activities.”

“How far you would have got or whether you would have come back without fulfilling your intention is difficult for me to assess.”

Counsell, of Russell Road, Hyson Green, Nottingham, was sentenced to eight years in jail for preparing acts of terrorism, and 18 months served concurrently for possessing a document containing terrorist information.