Libyan extremist in UK whose sons died in Syria found guilty of encouraging terrorism

Jurors were shown a video of Abubaker Deghayes’s speech at Brighton Mosque

Abubaker Deghayes, 53, of Brighton, England, has been found guilty of encouraging terrorism. Alamy
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A man who called for fighting “by sword” while preaching in the English seaside city of Brighton has been convicted of encouraging terrorism.

Abubaker Deghayes, whose two sons died in Syria, was caught on security camera as he gave a 20-minute speech to worshippers at Brighton Mosque last November.

The defendant, who is Libyan, had denied intending to encourage terrorism in his speech to about 50 people, including children and young adults.

On Wednesday, a jury at the Old Bailey found him guilty of the charge.

Deghayes was a prominent member of the mosque, which is also known as Al Quds Mosque.

The jury was told nothing about his family background but it can now be disclosed that close relatives have a history of extremism.

Deghayes is the brother of former Guantanamo detainee Omar Deghayes.

Two of Abubaker Deghayes’s sons were killed while fighting in Syria; a third died on the streets of Brighton when a drug deal went wrong.

He told the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales, known as the Old Bailey, he had been an active member of Brighton Mosque, delivering talks, book readings and Friday sermons, since 1987, when he would have been 18.

Convicted terrorist and radical preacher Abu Hamza attended the same mosque in the early 1980s. Hamza is now serving a sentence in the US for trying to establishing a terrorist training camp in Oregon.

Deghayes became a trustee of Brighton Mosque, on Dyke Road, but resigned in December 2017.

Police first became involved in 1997 when they investigated a report that he had been preaching in a manner that might “incite racial unrest” and “reflected strong Al Qaeda sympathies”.

On Sunday, November 1 last year, soon after evening prayers, Deghayes, 53, stood at the front of the mosque, with a book in his hand.

In footage played to the jury, he could be seen in socks, wearing a black top featuring the words “Free Palestine, resistance is existence”.

The congregation included teenagers and men in their twenties, but several older worshippers began fidgeting as the sermon went on. Some walked out.

Deghayes started the sermon by criticising the government for closing mosques because of the coronavirus.

He made reference to an infamous remark by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, about the appearance of women who wear the niqab.

“We have a prime minister at the moment who has made a mockery of the niqab before becoming the prime minister.”

Deghayes told his audience to pray loudly to overcome the pandemic.

He told the congregation to ignore the British government and the Prevent de-radicalisation programme.

He said: “Who’s more powerful than us? [That is] what they’re saying. Who’s more powerful than us? Look, we have this, We have that. Whose power is more powerful than us?"

Ben Lloyd, prosecuting, said the prosecution case was clear and straightforward, that by standing up at the front of a busy mosque, and by quite deliberately calling for “fighting by sword”, the defendant was encouraging terrorism, encouraging violence in the name of Islam.

“If the defendant’s own words were not clear enough, he also made a stabbing gesture with his hands,” he said.

Mr Lloyd told the jury: “Let me make one thing clear: what the case is not about is the freedom to practise religion or the freedom to worship.

“Of course, none of that is unlawful in this country. This is not about those who believe in Islam, rather, this case is about those who encourage violence in the name of religion, which, for very good reason, you may feel, is a criminal offence.”

Deghayes, of Saltdean, Brighton, told the jury he believed that taking up the sword was a “fundamental obligation” and was demonstrating a stabbing action to emphasise his point.

“No one can wipe out the fact in the Quran that fighting with the sword to protect yourself, lift oppression, open the way for the message to be passed, if blocked, speak the truth in front of a tyrant. Nobody can wipe out that,” he said.

Tom Wainwright, defending, asked: “What is the action you are doing?”

“That is the dance of the blade, to make sure I bring it home, so no one is misunderstanding. It is compulsory on us as a Muslim,” Deghayes said.

Links to extremism

Abubaker Deghayes married Einas Abdulsayen, a pharmacy graduate, in December 1991.

The family first came to the attention of social services after allegations of domestic abuse in 1996.

Police became involved in 1997 when it was claimed that Abubaker, then aged 29, had been preaching in a manner that might “incite racial unrest” and “reflected strong Al Qaeda sympathies”.

The family left Libya in 2000. Deghayes’ brother, Omar, was detained in Pakistan in 2002 and taken to Guantanamo Bay. Omar was released in 2007.

Libyan born former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Deghayes addresses a press conference in central London on August 17, 2009. A British legal charity is suing the British government over the rendition of terror suspects from Iraq to Afghanistan, it said Monday. Reprieve wants to force ministers to identify two men who were arrested by British forces in Iraq in 2004 before being handed over to the US and taken to Bagram air base in Afghanistan. AFP PHOTO/SHAUN CURRY / AFP PHOTO / SHAUN CURRY

The family returned to Britain in 2008, when there were further suspicions of domestic abuse, according to a serious case review by Brighton and Hove Safeguarding Children Board.

The family was brought to the attention of social services again in November 2010.

None of the professionals involved with the family considered that any of the siblings were at risk of being radicalised, but in early 2014 it was discovered that three of the boys had travelled to Turkey and then on to Syria.

Abdullah Deghayes was killed aged 18 by a sniper while fighting for an Al Qaeda-linked group in Idlib province, Syria.

His death was followed, nine months later, by that of his brother, Jaffar, who was 17.

A third brother, Amer, then 20, the eldest and first to leave for Syria, was shot in the stomach in the same battle as Abdullah but survived and remained in the country where he married and had a child.

Back in Brighton, Abdul Deghayes, Abdullah’s twin brother, accumulated 14 drug convictions for 25 offences.

He was jailed for two years in September 2018 after admitting possession with intent to supply after police found cocaine, ketamine, MDMA and amphetamines worth £2,000 ($2,725) along with scales, plastic bags, cash, a safe and burner phones at his home in Hove.

Abdul, then aged 22, was stabbed to death in a driveway in Brighton in February 2019 as a punishment because he had previously stolen drugs from the dealer.

Daniel Macleod, 37, from Crawley, West Sussex, was jailed for life for the attack, in which he stabbed Deghayes nine times, the last of which cut the femoral vein and artery.

A fourth brother was also involved in drug dealing.

Mohammed Deghayes, 20, was jailed for four years at Lewes Crown Court in April 2018 after police found him in the back of a car with 19 wraps of heroin and crack cocaine hidden in his body.

He was also sentenced to eight months, suspended for two years, after being found with 24 packets of MDMA in September 2016.

Deghayes married Einas Abdulsayen in December 1991 and they separated in 2010, after an allegation of assaulting his children was made.

He was jailed in 2018 for attempting to pervert the course of justice after he was arrested for dislocating his wife’s shoulder during what he said was an attempted exorcism.

He told police that she blamed him for the death of his two sons in Syria and for introducing the boys to cannabis.

Ms Abdulsayen told the court that she believed Deghayes had a mental illness and should see a doctor.

“He pretends to be normal. He needs medicine or something,” she said.

Updated: January 19, 2022, 3:09 PM