19 May 2014

Student denies smuggling money to Syria in her knickers

Home Affairs Correspondent

Until recently, Nawal Msaad was an outgoing University student – but she has now come to be known as the first British Muslim woman accused of Syria-related terror offences.

Until recently, Nawal Msaad was an outgoing University student – but she has now come to be known as the first British Muslim woman accused of Syria-related terror offences.

In an exclusive interview, she told me that nothing could be further from the truth. “Those who know me, know that I have strong views against terrorism and against religious extremism.”

Terrorism charges

The 27-year-old was arrested at Heathrow airport in January, as she was about to travel to Turkey. At the time, it was widely reported that Ms Msaad was trying to smuggle 20,000 euros to Syria in her underwear – something she denies.

She appeared in court on Monday along with her friend and co-accused, Amal El-Wahabi, 27, and mother-of two young children.

I can’t help but wonder if I had been called Natalie from Surrey whether the authorities would have pressed terrorism charges against me – Nawal Msaad

The pair are accused of together making arrangements to smuggle the money to Syria, knowing that it that it would or may be used for the purposes of terrorism. They both stood in the dock and pleaded not guilty.

Afterwards, Ms Msaad spoke to us about what she has been through since her arrest. It is unusual for someone awaiting trial to speak to the media – but Ms Msaad told me she felt strongly that she wanted to protest her innocence.

She told me: “It’s not me, my character, who I stand for, I have strong views against terrorism, against religious extremism. I’m a Muslim, it makes my religion look not-peaceful, and it’s not a true representation of Islam. I hope people can understand why I’m angry.

Electronic tag

The Londoner says she feels British Muslims are being unfairly targeted. She recently wrote on her Facebook page: “I can’t help but wonder if I had been called Natalie from Surrey whether the authorities would have pressed terrorism charges against me.”

Following her arrest, she had to spend seven weeks on remand and turned 27 inside. “It was awful,” she said, “It was really stressful and it was scary.”

Ms Msaad was eventually granted bail – but has to wear an electronic tag and is under a curfew as part of her bail conditions. She says without the support of her family she wouldn’t have been able to get though her ordeal.

The families of both women were in court to support them. Their trial is due to begin on the 7 July.