United Kingdom

'ISIS fanatic' accused of attack plot says group 'created by US'

An alleged supporter of so-called Islamic State accused of planning a terror attack has told a court he was researching the group, claiming it was created by the US to stoke Islamophobia.

Hisham Muhammad, 26, is accused of planning a 'lone-wolf attack' using knives and other weapons, with the armed forces or police as possible targets, as well as developing a drone to drop a 'harmful device'.

'I have long held the suspicion as a devout Muslim that much of the material about Islamic State is misrepresented or exaggerated in order to increase Islamophobia,' Muhammad said, in part of his defence written in July last year and read out to the court on Thursday.

'Especially in countries like the UK where there is a desire to restrict Muslim immigration,' his statement continued.  

On Thursday, Muhammad told the jury 'a lot more research' needed to be done into the terror group, saying: 'I don't believe it exists, I believe it was created by America. I believe it was created by America to take away the rights of Muslims.'

Hisham Muhammad, 26, pictured before police raided his home, is accused of planning a 'lone-wolf attack' using knives and other weapons, with the armed forces or police as possible targets

The Old Bailey heard Muhammad watched dozens of videos from extremist groups including songs and chants known as nasheeds.

Anne Whyte QC, prosecuting, said there was 'nothing nice' in the videos or their lyrics.

'They are not civilians harmlessly praising their god, they are jihadis speaking of holy war,' she said of one clip.

Muhammad said that while he watched the videos, he denies the charge of engaging in conduct in preparation for acts of terrorism, claiming it was research. 

Jurors were shown some of the songs, including one with the lyrics 'by the knife of horror we cut their necks'.

Muhammad said he did not support the violent actions described in the videos but 'liked the tune' of one of the songs.

A second video shown to the jury on Thursday featured balaclava-clad men singing 'the bridges of jihad are stepping forward'.

The 26-year-old told jurors he also listened to genres such as gangster rap and drill, which can also feature violent lyrics.

'The point I am trying to make is that I listen to gangster rap but I don't support it,' he said.

Images taken from Muhammad's home shows a variety of materials and appliances

A selection of knives were found on the windowsill of the property it is claimed, along with what appeared to be a UK passport

Faisal Abu Ahmad, 24, cousin of Hisham Muhammad, pictured during a police raid on Muhammad's home in Bury, Greater Manchester, in 2018

Miss Whyte said Muhammad, of Victoria Avenue in Bury, had watched the videos 'umpteen' times.

She added: 'You are not conducting research, you are motivating yourself.'

'It's not true, it's not true,' Muhammad replied.

The court previously heard police found several weapons, including a tomahawk and a machete, inside a three-bedroom house in Manchester rented by Muhammad.

Jurors were told Muhammad had searched for terms including 'armed police Manchester', suicide belt, Isis and machete, as well as Victoria Station in Manchester.

These searches were made in May 2018, shortly before the first anniversary of the Manchester terror attack.

Muhammad told the jury he was researching the station, which is adjacent to the Manchester Arena, as he had a job interview nearby.

Mohammad (left) and Ahmad (right) are both on trial at the Old Bailey in London. They are pictured together in a court sketch done last year

Muhammad denies one count of preparing acts of terrorism and is on trial at the Old Bailey

When Miss Whyte said the job interview was arranged after he conducted his research, Muhammad replied: 'I can't remember, I believe it was for the job interview.'

When asked why he had made the other internet searches, Muhammad said: 'I have an interest in weapons, I have always been interested in weapons. I have always had an interest in this stuff.'

He later added: 'I have never heard of a suicide belt before, that's why I researched it. I didn't know what a suicide belt was, that's why I looked it up.'

Muhammad's cousin Faisal Abu Ahmad, 25, also of Victoria Avenue, denies failing to alert authorities of the alleged attack plan.

The trial continues. 

Landlord's 'surreal' experience of coming across what he thought could be a bomb

Giving evidence last year, landlord Onkar Singh described the 'surreal' experience of coming across what he thought could be a bomb in his rented house.

He told how takeaway worker Muhammad had failed to pay the £600 rent on his property.

Mr Singh said his 'heart sunk' when he visited him to discuss it and saw the condition of the house.

The witness said: 'He agreed to move out but said he needed a few days to sort himself out.'

Upstairs he found a 'tub with wire sticking out' and a collection of knives on a windowsill, the court heard.

Mr Singh said: 'I found it a bit unusual. It seemed a bit odd.

'Once I saw the knives I just wanted to get out the house.'

He returned with a friend and his brother-in-law and took photographs of the suspicious items, including a printout of images of guns, he said.

Mr Singh said his brother-in-law Daniel was 'in shock' at what they had found and they went straight to the nearest police station in Bury.

Cross-examining, Bernard Richmond QC, for Muhammad, said there had been 'no effort to hide' any of the objects.

He said: 'There was no attempt to justify its existence or explain it away. It must have been a rather surreal experience.'

Mr Singh, a car salesman, answered: 'It was yeah.'

Francis FitzGibbon QC, for Abu Ahmad pressed the witness on what he had made of the scene.

Mr Singh told jurors: 'At the time I did not want to make any allegations of what was going on. I just did not think it looked right.

'Why is there a switch in a tub? It could be a bomb.'

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