A number of Islamic radicals, including the recently captured Irish passport holder Alexandr Bekmirzaev, discussed their dream of living under Sharia law while camping in the Wicklow mountains, according to a former Isis sympathiser.
The friend of Bekmirzaev, who is being held in Syria where he was allegedly fighting for Isis, has told The Irish Times they went to the Wicklow mountains as "it was an opportunity to walk in an open space where you could talk about anything and no one was listening".
The man, who does not want to be identified for personal safety reasons, still lives in Ireland.
He has shown The Irish Times an extended WhatsApp conversation the two men had between October 26th and December 27th of last year.
Bekmirzaev (45) who it is believed came here from Belarus in the early 2000s, and became an Irish citizen in February 2010, was captured by Kurdish forces in Syria on December 30th. While in Ireland he was put on a Garda watchlist. The Garda says this happened after he was granted citizenship.
He camped in the Wicklow mountains in August 2010 with other Islamic radicals, according to the friend. Four sympathisers took part in the camp so that they could talk about their dream of living under Sharia law, the man said. Nine or 10 took part in another camp some months later.
“It wasn’t a training camp. It was an opportunity to walk in an open space where you could talk about anything and no one was listening.”
In the WhatsApp exchange late last year Bekmirzaev describes an increasingly desperate situation as hostile forces close in on one of the last remaining pockets of Isis-controlled territory, and he fears he will be shot by Isis if he tries to escape.
They were all terrorists but they were decent people in normal life
The former Isis sympathiser said he did not think that “anything like gun training ever happened in Ireland”. There were, he believed, “still a few” Isis sympathisers in Ireland, but he had never heard of Ireland being discussed as a target.
The men, who went camping on Mullaughcleevaun mountain, joked that its name “was a little like Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader”, he said.
“They were all terrorists but they were decent people in normal life,” said the man, who is no longer a Muslim.
Mental health issues
Bekmirzaev already had mental health issues when he lived in Ireland, he said. In the WhatsApp exchange, Bekmirzaev said he was suffering from “was was” or whispers in his head.
The former Isis sympathiser said Bekmirzaev’s father was from Uzbekistan and his mother from Belarus. When Bekmirzaev came to Ireland he was not a Muslim but later took an interest in the religion of his father’s family.
In the period prior to his leaving for Syria, Bekmirzaev was on social welfare. In the WhatsApp conversation Bekmirzaev wondered whether he might be able to collect five years’ back payments from social welfare, if he could get back to Ireland.
“Sorry, akhi [my brother], I need a bit of joke,” Bekmirzaev said. “Good for you,” the man in Ireland replied.
Bekmirzaev, in the exchanges, said he was worried that Irish people might have a very negative attitude towards him if he managed to get back to Ireland, because of “all the videos”.