A Derbyshire man, who deposited violent footage and propaganda at various mosques across the country, has been jailed.
On Friday 1 June last year (2018) three USB drives containing imagery and words promoting and encouraging terrorism, were found in the shoes of people attending a mosque in Leicestershire.
The following day the same thing happened at two mosques in Bedfordshire, in which four USB drives in total were found. Five drives were also discovered at a mosque in the West Midlands.
On Monday 4 June another three devices were found at a Derbyshire mosque. A further stick was discovered at another mosque in the West Midlands a few days later.
Enquiries made by counter terrorism officers at the East Midlands Special Operations Unit scoured CCTV footage from a number of the scenes, which revealed a man placing the sticks into shoes left in the foyer while their owners prayed inside. The man was Omar Ashfaq.
The 24-year-old, formerly of St Thomas Road in Derby, was arrested. A search of his home and a vehicle uncovered numerous bags of USB sticks as well as notes outlining his plans.
One document labelled ‘Target: 1 week’ was a map on which a route was drawn, taking in as far north as Leeds, east to Peterborough, south to London and west to Stoke-on-Trent.
Further digital enquiries identified Ashfaq as the ‘author’ of the devices found in the shoes and work around the movements of his vehicle corroborated his travel in the vicinity of the affected sites over those days.
Ashfaq was charged with three counts of possessing material of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism (Section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000), and eight counts of disseminating terrorist publications (Section 2 of the Terrorism Act 2006).
He subsequently pleaded guilty to the possession offences but continued to deny disseminating the material — claiming he was merely attempting to highlight extremist material available online to Imams so that they could report it to the police.
On the first day of his trial at Birmingham Crown Court, however, Ashfaq pleaded guilty to dissemination and on Tuesday 14 May 2019 was jailed for four-and-a-half years, with a further year of monitoring on licence.
On sentencing Judge Melbourne Inman QC said Ashfaq had planned to distribute the material, had been determined and was only stopped by his arrest. He added, ‘exactly how many USB sticks were circulated is not known’.
DI Donna Sisson, head of Derbyshire Special Branch, said: “Had we not arrested Omar Ashfaq when we did I fully believe he would have continued with his ‘operation’ to plant up to 250 digital devices at sites up and down the country.
“The USB sticks he managed to deposit contained footage of unspeakable brutality and promoted an extreme ideology that has absolutely no place in our communities.
“In some cases these USB sticks were found by children. A small consolation is that they never got see the horrors contained on them.
“I’d like to extend my thanks to those conscientious and diligent members of our communities — who are entitled to practise their faith in peace and without incident such as this — for calling the police. Your actions stopped a man, intent on spreading harmful messages, in his tracks.”
If you have found a USB stick in similar circumstances please report it to police as soon as possible on 101.
If you have information about suspicious activity or behaviour call 101 or speak to Counter Terrorism Police in confidence on 0800 789 321.
You can also report a potential terrorist threat via a secure online form at gov.uk/ACT. Always dial 999 in an emergency.