Reporting by Conor Kane
A Waterford-based man who admitted sending funds to Islamic State, was in contact with “medium to high level” operatives in the international terrorist group, and tried to travel to Syria to fight in the ongoing war, has been jailed for two and a half years.
In the first prosecution of its kind in this country, 26-year-old Hassan Bal from Waterford admitted unlawfully transferring €400 for use by Isis and to attempting to collect money for the group.
His activities were detected following a newspaper sting and an investigation by a number of police forces.
Judge Eugene O’Kelly found at Waterford Circuit Court that the accused had the confidence of “significant members” of Isis and had proven his credentials to them by attempting to travel to Syria to join them.
He sentenced Hassan Bal to four and a half years in prison, with two years suspended, for attempting to collect funds for Iris and three years, one suspended, for sending funds to the terrorist group. The suspensions were on condition that he remains “totally disassociated” with any group promoting “a radical view of Islam”.
The investigations involved were “necessarily trans-jurisdictional and complex,” Superintendent Anthony Pettit said, and led to Hassan Bal’s address in Waterford. Bal was arrested on December 22 of 2015.
While being interviewed by gardaí in December 2015, Hassan Bal accepted he had arranged a money drop-off in London but said the money wasn’t intended for Isis, but was a fraud for himself or a charity.
The accused was arrested again on April 27 of 2017 and more contents of his phone were put to him and he accepted that the money was going to Isis. “He accepted it was meant to be used for fighting in Syria.” Both Omar Hussain and Abu Issa Amriki, who were involved in contacts discovered during the investigation, were “prominent members of Isis.”
Hassan Bal was born in the UK in 1991, to a UK-born mother of Irish descent and a Turkish father.
The family moved to Wexford in 2005 but the parents separated and the father moved back to the UK. Hassan Bal then moved to Waterford with his mother and siblings.
When he was 20, he moved back to the UK to be with his father and stayed there until June of 2014.
A report was carried out on the accused by Dr Daniel Koehler of the German Institute of Radicalisation and De-Radicalisation Studies, who found that he initially had a “strict Muslim” upbringing but it was the father who was the “dominant presence” at that time.
“There was a period of time, as he grew up, in which things were much less strict and he became very guilty about his feeling that he wasn’t a good Muslim,” his senior counsel Giollaoisa O Lideadha said, a point agreed by Superintendent Anthony Pettit who said the accused felt “he was living a western lifestyle, against his beliefs”.
Part of dealing with that guilt was to explore and adopt “more and more extreme religious beliefs,” the court heard.
The war in Syria was also heavily influential on his thinking, as he perceived a “non-Muslim, brutal dictatorship” in place, which added to his sense of guilt that he wasn’t doing enough “to protect the victims of war”.
It was during his time in the UK between 2011 and 2014 that he became radicalised, according to his family, the court heard.
In April 2015, he made arrangements to go to Syria but was turned back at Attaturk Airport in Istanbul.
Hassan Bal did some training as an electrician when in the UK and was married at the time of his arrest in April of 2017. He has been in custody since that time and his wife gave birth to their daughter.
In a letter written to the court, the accused said: “I don’t know how to put into words how deeply sorry I am for what I have done, and how remorseful”. After his arrest he said he “came to my senses,” he said. “My eyes started to open and I saw what I was doing was wrong and that my actions didn’t aid the Syrian people”. He appealed to the judge: “My life is in your hands.”
He wanted to become a “positive” influence, against the use of violence, his lawyer said.
The court heard that Hassan Bal was a “valued member” of the Islamic community in Waterford.
“It is in the public interest that Hassan Bal is rehabilitated into society on his release,” Judge Eugene O’Kelly said. “He will face many challenges re-asserting himself into daily life, but the hope is that he will be able to participate fully in society.”