A young Muslim from Coventry who allegedly tried to join Islamic State in Syria wept as he told jurors he fled Britain for his “safety” after being “tortured” by unidentified shadowy figures.
Zakariya Ashiq, 20, left the UK on November 6 last year on a bus from Victoria Station in London and made his way via Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Bulgaria to Jordan, his Old Bailey trial heard.
But when he failed to cross the border to reach his intended destination of Syria, he flew back to Heathrow where he was arrested on November 20.
Giving evidence in his defence, Ashiq told how he was approached by West Midland anti-terror police and the anti-radicalisation organisation, Prevent, after he was stopped as he attempted to go to Corfu in July last year.
MI5 then made contact and “pestered” and “harassed” him during 12 meetings in hotel conference rooms to help them and reveal the leaders of his friends, Ali Kalantar and Mohammed Ismail, who had already gone to Syria, he said.
Ashiq said he would tell them if he ever heard about a terror attack on British soil but he did not want to spy on Muslims for them and give them information about Syria.
In their last meeting some seven days before Ashiq left the UK, the operatives promised they would leave him alone, the defendant said.
On five occasions between July and November last year, “shadowy figures” in balaclavas with London and American accents dragged him off the street in Coventry into a white van where they blindfolded him and put him in handcuffs, he said.
On the first occasion, they drove him out of the city before they took his blindfold off and demanded to know who his friends in Syria answered to and where they were located in Syria.
Ashiq said: “At first I thought it was a joke. I thought it could be my friends messing around. Once they took off the blindfold they gave me a pen and paper and said ‘write down the leaders of Ismail and Ali’.
“They showed my mum’s prescription, my fingerprints. They said ‘we know everything about you, there’s nothing you can hide from us’.”
Afterwards, the men drove him back to Coventry and dropped him off, he said.
On the other four occasions, Ashiq said he was again picked up when he was alone on the street and taken to a building which might have been a warehouse, where he was blindfolded and handcuffed on a chair.
The defendant became tearful as he told the jury: “They would put a towel on your face, pour water on you and you get a drowning sensation.
“I was choking up the water. I thought I was going to die. Then afterwards, they do the same thing again but I took a gulp of air before they did it and it was the same questions again and again.”
He went on: “I just said, ‘just kill me now. I prefer death than torture’. Personally, I wanted to die. There’s no point for me to live life if that’s what life in the UK is. This country hates Muslims, the way they tortured me.”
Asked by his lawyer Paul Hynes QC why he never mentioned these encounters to the police, Ashiq said: “I didn’t trust them. I thought I would seem like a mad man saying these things.”
Quizzed by Mr Hynes on why he decided to quit Britain in November last year, Ashiq said: “For my safety.
“I just needed to get out of this place. All the time I was looking over my back. When I see people walking on the street they are all happy, hunky-dory, they have no idea about what’s gong on.
“I was going to a place of safety. I thought the only place you seek that’s independent of the UK is the caliphate.”
Asked if that was the same as ISIS, Ashiq said they were two separate things but “intertwined”.
As he described his cross-country journey to Jordan sleeping in mosques en route, Ashiq said: “I’m willing to do anything to survive – for my own safety and to stop me from committing suicide.”
Ashiq, of Station Road, Coventry, denies two counts of preparation of terrorist acts on or before November 6 last year.
The trial continues.