Belfast Telegraph

Man 'was involved in Syria battles'

A Northern Ireland man charged with receiving weapons training from opposition forces in the Syrian civil war has told police he was involved in battles against both Islamic State and the government regime, a court has heard.

Eamon Bradley, from Londonderry, has given detectives an extensive account of his role in the bloody conflict earlier this year, the city's magistrates court was told.

Bradley, 25, from the Creggan area of the city, was arrested in Derry on Thursday only days after returning from Syria.

He appeared in court today charged under UK terror legislation with committing two offences in Syria - possession of explosives with intent to endanger life, namely a grenade, and receiving training in arms and explosives.

Dressed in a black T-shirt, bearded Bradley, who the court heard converted to Islam five years ago, spoke only to confirm his date of birth and that he understood the charges he faces.

He was remanded in custody after his application for bail was refused by District Judge Barney McElholm.

A detective sergeant with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) told the judge he could connect the accused with the charges.

The officer said Bradley, who is from Melmore Gardens in Derry, answered all questions during two days of questioning at Antrim police station.

"During this account he stated, having converted to the Muslim faith and becoming aware of the conflict in Syria, he determined that he would travel to Syria to help the people," he said.

"He described to police contact with people he doesn't identify on the internet which assisted him to getting to the Syrian/Turkish border, which is a known crossing point into Syria for the on-going conflict."

The officer said Bradley, an Irish citizen, flew to Turkey from Dublin in February and stayed at various locations near the Syrian border for two months.

"That's where he learned more about Islam and various groups and groupings in the area," he said.

The officer said Bradley told detectives he assembled with a group of men and went over the border into Syria via a river crossing.

"Mr Bradley has informed police that he attended a training camp under the control of a group called Jaysh Al Islam, which translated is Army of Islam," he said.

"He was there for a period of approximately two months. He stated he received training in this camp in AK47 firearms, he mentions other firearms, he also mentions mortars and other explosive weapons.

"He claimed that he signed up to be part of the Mujahedeen knowing they would be fighting to overthrow the Baath regime - the Syrian government - and fighting against Isil."

The detective added: "During his account with police he stated he was actively involved in three battles in Syria - two against the Baathist regime and one against Isil.

"In course of those battles he was armed with an AK47 and numerous magazines of ammunition and a grenade."

The officer said Bradley had stressed to police that he did not use any of the weapons during the battles.

He said the accused told officers he was in a group of around 20 men who were armed with heavy artillery including mortars and tanks. He said the opposing side was similarly armed but also had planes.

With limited court staff on duty at the weekend, only one of Bradley's family members was allowed to attend the hearing. While his mother went inside the court, other family and friends waited outside.

The officer said Bradley told the police he eventually left the region to return home, using a Syrian passport, after becoming "disillusioned".

Applying for bail, the accused's lawyer insisted his client believed he had not committed any crime.

"Mr Bradley genuinely doesn't believe he has done anything wrong," he said, noting he came from a "good family" and had never been in trouble with the law before.

The lawyer claimed it was the first occasion someone in the jurisdiction had been charged with extra-territorial offences under those specific terms of UK terror legislation.

Judge McElholm, noting the complexity of the conflict in Syria, said he had concerns about what constituted "terrorism".

"As I understand it he was fighting against a tyrannical and murderous regime," he said. "I am not entering into the field of politics but those are terms that have been used by democratic leaders in the western world. And he was also fighting against Isil."

He added: "There is no doubt that the regime in Syria has committed gross atrocities and human rights violations throughout that conflict. And I would find it very hard for the state to argue that fighting against Isil was an act of terrorism."

Opposing bail, the detective sergeant stressed that Bradley was not charged in relation to his claimed involvement in battles - that he was instead accused of possessing arms and receiving weapons training.

The officer said he opposed bail on the grounds of potential risk of absconding the jurisdiction; risk of reoffending if he went back to Syria; and risk that the weapons training could be used to aid domestic terrorists in the UK.

After further deliberation, the judge ultimately refused the bail application.

"With some reluctance I am going to refuse bail," he said.

He said further details would need to be explored - such as the exact reason why Bradley returned to Northern Ireland - before bail could be considered.

Bradley was remanded in custody and will appear before the court again via videolink on December 4.

His mother entered the dock briefly at the close of the hearing and embraced her son.


From Belfast Telegraph