Man jailed for Isis fundraising felt ‘guilt’ over western lifestyle

Hassan Bal tried to go fight for Isis in Syria in 2015 but only made it as far as Turkey

Hassan Bal’s attempts to raise funds for Islamic State (Isis) came just months after he had failed to get to Syria to fight for the extremist Islamic organisation following a period of radicalisation born out of guilt over leading a western lifestyle, his sentencing hearing heard.

Supt Anthony Pettit told Waterford Circuit Court how Bal had tried to go fight for Isis in Syria in April 2015 but had only made it as far as Turkey being stopped by Turkish authorities at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul and he was forced to return to Ireland.

The son of a Turkish father and an Englishwoman born to Irish parents in the UK, Bal moved to Ireland when he was 14, living initially in Wexford where his father, who was a strict Muslim, was the dominant force in the family until he and his wife separated and he returned to the UK.

Details of Bal's upbringing emerged in the course of a report prepared on him by expert, Dr Daniel Koehler of the German Institute of Radicalisation and De-Radicalisation Studies, who was contacted by Bal's mother shortly after her son's second arrest in April 2017.

The court heard that Bal, who moved to Waterford with his mother and five brothers and one sister after his father returned to the UK, began living a western lifestyle but he had moved to the UK when he was 20 in 2011 to join his father and he started to become more radicalised there.

Referring to Dr Koehler’s report, Bal’s counsel, Giollaoisa O Lideadha SC said his client felt guilty over not leading a strict Muslim lifestyle. “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.”

Reading more radical Muslim scholars while in the UK, Bal was also hugely influenced by events in Syria as he perceived a “non-Muslim, brutal dictatorship” in place there, which added to his sense of guilt that he wasn’t doing enough “to protect the victims of war”, said Mr O Lideadha.

Bal also began to feel guilty as he knew several Muslims in the UK, who had gone to fight in Syria for Isis and were killed so it prompted him to become more involved.

Just how committed Bal was to the Isis caused was reflected on material found on his phone including a picture of him in military combats holding an imitation pistol as well as information on how to travel to Syria and propaganda about Isis suicide bombings and executions.

However, his views on Isis were challenged when his brother introduced him to someone who had come back from Mosul and he learned of what life was life under Isis and he subsequently began to move away from such a radical extreme form of Islam. “It opened his eyes,” said Supt Pettit.

Living on social welfare and doing some periodic work as an electrician around Waterford for members of the Muslim community and at their mosque, Bal married a British born Muslim in October 2016 and his wife later gave birth to a girl while he was remand on the charges.

Supt Pettit said that gardaí saw Bal’s wife and child as a stabilising influence on him even though his wife’s family in London had strong links to Islamic extremism through her sister and her sister’s husband who both went to Syria to support Isis and the sister’s husband was killed fighting there.

Bal worked with Dr Koehler to become deradicalised and his current world view was reflected in a letter which he wrote to Judge Eugene O’Kelly in which he apologised for his actions in trying to raise funds for Isis before appealing for mercy.

“I don’t know how to put into words how deeply sorry I am for what I have done, and how remorseful I am... My eyes started to open and I saw what I was doing was wrong and that my actions didn’t aid the Syrian people.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times