A terror suspect accused of planning to join Islamic State claimed to have visited a Turkish province bordering Syria as a “tourist excursion” after checking the area out on TripAdvisor, a jury has heard.
Safwaan Mansur, from Birmingham, and Hanzalah Patel, from Leicester, both deny a charge of travelling to Turkey in preparation for terrorist acts.
The men, who spent nine days in jail in Turkey in 2017 after being arrested at an Istanbul hotel, now claim they intended to travel briefly into Syria to gain “bragging rights” on their return.
Prosecutors allege Mansur, 22, of Hampton Road, Aston, and Patel, also 22, of Frederick Road, Leicester, undertook a 24-hour bus journey from Istanbul to near the Syrian border during a previous visit to Turkey in 2016.
Opening the case against the pair at Birmingham Crown Court, prosecutor Simon Davis said they were arrested at Heathrow Airport in 2017 after being reported missing by family members.
During subsequent questioning by police, the court heard, Mansur said he had gone to Turkey’s Hatay province – described in court as a “transit area” for Syria – in 2016 to “have a look” like “lots of other tourists”.
Claiming items including water purifiers and solar chargers were found in the men’s luggage, Mr Davis told the court: “Mr Patel, when interviewed, throughout maintained a no comment stance, as was his right.
“He put forward two prepared statements which were effectively denials of any wrongdoing.”
Jurors were told Mansur told officers items in his luggage were gifts for friends at a mosque in Germany, where he intended to stop off en route to or from Turkey.
Outlining Mansur’s account, Mr Davis told the jury panel: “The people at the mosque liked outdoor pursuits like camping – that was the explanation being given.”
Addressing the reasons given by Mansur for the 2016 visit to Turkey, Mr Davis added: “He said he had checked on TripAdvisor … effectively explaining the trip to Hatay as a long tourist excursion.”
At the conclusion of his opening speech, Mr Davis said jurors would be invited to consider whether the men intended to commit terrorist acts.
Questioning why the former school friends had misled their families and travelled via another country to Turkey, Mr Davis told the jury: “You might want to ask yourselves whether this was an innocent camping holiday or, as the prosecution allege, the two of them engaging in conduct with a view to crossing into Syria with the intention of joining Islamic State.”
The Crown’s opening was followed by a brief speech to the jury by Patel’s barrister, Richard Thomas.
Mr Thomas, making submissions for both defendants, said: “The issue in this case is not, ‘Did they intend to go to Syria?’
“The central issue between the prosecution and the defence is whether they made those efforts to travel to Syria with the intention to commit acts of terrorism.
“They are adamant they had no intention whatsoever of fighting or otherwise committing acts of terrorism.”
Mansur and Patel had “hopelessly naive and idiotic” plans to cross the Turkey-Syria border and return soon after “having seen something of what was happening” to secure bragging rights on their return, Mr Thomas said.
The case continues on Wednesday.
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