THE LEVANT – By Robert Mendick for the Sunday Telegraph -Last week a British woman was convicted of trying to smuggle £16,000 to her jihadist husband in Middle East while her friend, who had the money in her knickers, was acquitted. Their sensational trial has revealed how a young boy raised on leafy London streets came to fight holy war far from home.
His father worked for John Lewis, his mother is a school dinner lady. But the story of Aine Davis is anything but ordinary.
For Davis was the jihadi fighter at the centre of a sensational trial last week in which a student was acquitted of trying to smuggle €20,000 (£16,000) to him in her knickers.
Pictured here, in the first photograph of him in Syria, Davis smiles for the camera, wearing combat fatigues and clutching an assault rifle. His finger points to the sky in a pose adopted by followers of the Islamic State.
Davis, 30, chose last year to turn his back on the leafy west London streets where he grew up. Nine months after this photograph was taken, Davis is likely to still be in Syria or possibly Iraq. He may even be dead by now.
The Sunday Telegraph has pieced together elements of Davis’s life that led to a young boy from Hammersmith becoming a Middle East jihadist. It is a journey that took him from being a petty criminal to a drug dealer who converted to Islam, becoming further radicalised during a spell in jail.
Last week, Davis’s wife, Amal El-Wahabi, 27, from Harlesden, north-west London, was convicted of funding terrorism after a trial at the Old Bailey. But an old friend from school, Nawal Msaad, also 27, was cleared by the jury after she told the court she had no idea the money, hidden in her underwear as she tried to board a flight to Istanbul, was for terrorist purposes.
Police are now investigating Davis’s links to other extremists in London. Officers are trying to trace the network which raised the €20,000 to send to him in Syria. The Sunday Telegraph understands that one man has been arrested and questioned over supplying the money to El-Wahabi to give to Davis.
Throughout the trial, Davis’s shadow hung over proceedings. He clearly had a hold on his wife, pulling the strings and influencing her actions from his hideout. He sent photographs of himself posing as a jihadi fighter to her and their four-year-old son; she sent one back of their child with his finger pointing upwards, mimicking the actions of his father. Davis left behind him four children by two different mothers. His youngest child was just two months old when he abandoned his family and Britain.
According to security sources, Davis’s story is worryingly familiar. Like dozens of other British jihadis now in the Middle East, Davis crossed the line from criminality on the streets of UK cities to embrace international terrorism.
Like many others, he came from an impoverished, dysfunctional family. He was born Aine Leslie Junior Davis on Feb 11 1984 at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital in Hammersmith. At the time, according to his birth certificate, his mother Fay Rodriquez lived in Fulham. The space for details about his father was left blank.
But snippets from last week’s trial and other pieces of information gleaned by The Sunday Telegraph suggest his father was nicknamed “Benno” and worked at one time for John Lewis, buying clothes on a staff discount for his grandchildren. Mrs Rodriquez, according to her Facebook page, works at Latymer Upper School, a private school in west London. The school said last week she worked for a company called Chartwells, which provides the catering for the school. A year ago, before her son had gone to Syria, she posted: “I would like everyone to know my girls . . . and my son aine you all mean the world to me and I’m proud of each and everyone of you xx.”
Last week, Mrs Rodriquez, who has two other children who have converted to Islam, declined to comment on Aine’s situation. He was one of 13 children his father had by four different mothers. When he was five, according to testimony given by El-Wahabi during her trial, Davis was sent to Gambia, his father’s apparent birthplace, tolive with his grandmother because he was “driving his mother crazy”.
He returned to the UK when he was eight and again as a teenager, before deciding at the age of 17 to live in London for good. In Britain he became involved in local gangs, adopting the name “Biggz”.
In June 2004 at Southwark Crown Court, he pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm after he was caught travelling in a taxi with a handgun,alongside another youth. He was sentenced to two years at a young offenders’ institution. At that stage he was working for gangsters running Britain’s biggest “gun factory”, selling a handgun a day to gangs, until it was raided by police. At some stage, he is thought to have converted to Islam and he became increasingly radicalised while in prison.
In all, between 2002 and 2010, he was convicted on six separate occasions of possessing cannabis and on each occasion given a fine. In April 2010, police responding to reports of gangs “fighting with weapons”, chased Davis from the scene. As he fled, he threw a large quantity of cannabis from his trousers before being arrested with £680 in his pockets. He was arrested on suspicion of possessing drugs with intent to supply but was only charged with possession following advice from the Crown Prosecution Service and was given a fine after pleading guilty.
Davis worked only sporadically. The Old Bailey trial heard that he had taken a job with London Underground in 2006 and 2007 although Transport for London said it had no record of Aine Davis ever working for the company.
His private life was just as chaotic. He had two children with one woman before marrying El-Wahabi. She grew up in London, the daughter of Moroccan-born parents. She lived at home until she was 19, when she met Davis, three years her senior, at the Aklam Road mosque in west London in 2006. He had by then converted to Islam and was calling himself Hamza. It is not clear if Davis ever had direct dealings with his now namesake Abu Hamza, the notorious “hook-handed” cleric, who also lived in west London but is now jailed in America for terrorism offences.
When his wife’s home was searched, police found Davis’s iPod containing speeches by Abu Hamza and the al-Qaeda preacher Anwar al-Awlaki. On a Kindle were various books by Abdullah Azzam, mentor to Osama bin Laden. El-Wahabi told the Old Bailey how they met. “[Davis] used to come to the mosque and pray and I was working there and when I leave, we would always bump into each other. A situation happened that made us close.
He saw me in tears and I said my domestic situation was very difficult . . . He was there to talk to.” Her parents did not approve of their relationship, particularly as it became clear Davis was dealing cannabis and harder drugs. “My dad picked up that he had money and there was nowhere it came from,” she told the court.
It is clear Davis treated her appallingly and held sway over her. The pair travelled to Yemen where Davis enrolled at a religious Islamic school but El-Wahabi fell pregnant and the couple came back to London. Two months before the birth on New Year’s Eve 2009, the couple split up. It was another two years before they got back together again. By then Davis had embarked on further travels to the Middle East, visiting Saudi Arabia on a pilgrimage, and then Yemen, Egypt and Qatar.
According to El-Wahabi, he was trying to escape his past life as a drug dealer and gangster, and the pair were reconciled. In May last year, the couple had a second child. Two months after the birth, last July, Davis announced he was off to Turkey en route to Syria. “I was just confused,” said El-Wahabi. “He always told me, ‘I’m going, I’m going, I’m going’ but I never thought that he would.”
He threatened in text messages and phone calls to take another wife and she, in desperation to stop him, agreed to travel to join him. That decision and the choice to help smuggle thousands of pounds in cash to him, mean she is now facing a jail term.
On Dec 4 he told her: “No bad feelings but it is obvious we want different things!!!!! May allah provide us with spouse who desire the same thing amen . . . Ur not serious about this man!!!! Cause your still thinking about it!!! Stay in ur country!! . . . boring…”
That provoked the response Davis was seeking: “I will come so we don’t get devorced. I wont b able 2 del wid that again.”
Davis had maintained his hold on his wife. She is now facing jail; he is at large.