Former Lancashire soldier who ‘tried to join ISIS’ convicted of firearms offences

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AN ex-soldier suspected of trying to join terror group ISIS has been found guilty of firearms offences  after a police sting.

Muslim convert Gavin Rae, 36, a farmer's son and former infantry soldier, will be sentenced by a High Court judge on a date to be fixed after jurors reached unanimous guilty verdicts on five charges of attempting to possess a weapon with intent to endanger life, attempting to possess a prohibited weapon, and encouraging the commission of an offence by encouraging others to sell or transfer weapons and ammunition, including a Baikal semi-automatic pistol and silencer.

Gavin aka Yaqub Rae

Gavin aka Yaqub Rae

Rae, also known as Yaqub, moved to rural north Preston to be near his two sisters. He launched a business in the city and rented a house with his young family - who cannot be identified for legal reasons.

But during his two week trial Preston Crown Court heard after he converted to Islam in 2012, Rae, came to regard Britain as “horrible” and “full of paedophiles” saying “the woman are filthy” and “disgusting”.

He told an undercover security operative who befriended him: “It’s not gonna be long now before Islam will come to the shores of this country.”

Jurors heard in July 2015 Rae was brought back with his family to the UK after taking his children to Turkey via Paris, Marrakech and Casablanca, and ultimately being denied entry to Turkey.

Authorities had doubted his reasons for travelling to Istanbul, namely for a family holiday, as it had followed another incident in July 2014, in which he was stopped at Manchester Airport trying to board a flight to Cyprus after his suitcase was searched and the contents “were not obviously related to tourism or a holiday”.

A probe was launched involving undercover officers who befriended him, and just four months later he was arrested by armed officers in a hotel room in Crewe, trying to buy pistols and machine guns during the police sting, Preston Crown Court heard.

He had told one of the undercover police officers that the authorities thought him a “danger to this country” who believed his intentions were to “go and join Isis and do jihad”.

Anne Whyte QC, prosecuting, said: “In October and November 2015 the defendant made very real efforts to obtain a firearm, ammunition and a silencer from people he barely knew. Those people were in fact undercover operatives.”

She described how two months after his failed holiday, he was working in Edinburgh at a backpacker’s hostel when an undercover police operative, known by the pseudonym Tony and posing as a fellow Muslim from Eastern Europe, befriended him.

The day they met, Rae told his new friend: “It’s not gonna be long now before Islam will come to the shores of this country...and if they reject it we’ll fight them. But we want to live under sharia not democracy.”

He said of Britain: “It’s full of paedophiles, sex people. It’s horrible. Filthy mate. Filthy. Females, the women, the women are filthy you know. Disgusting.”

The friends would pray together in their hostel rooms and go out to eat together and Rae expressed an interest in moving to Albania, where the undercover officer purported to be from.

Miss Whyte added: “What he said also, you might think, revealed a man who was plainly very much out of love with life in a modern western democratic country and very much in love with the idea of living in a Muslim country with his family, within the operation of sharia law.”

Within a week he told Tony that, once the Lancashire family were in a Muslim country, he would “go then and sacrifice my life for Allah.”

Whilst walking to a restaurant, he told Tony that he was looking for someone who knew about weapons. Using encrypted messages and being careful over how he communicated on the phone by using a special security app, Rae was told by Tony he had a contact, Hamza, who could source guns.

Hamza, also an undercover operative, met the defendant at an Oxford retail park, near where Rae was working.

He told the defendant he knew someone called Vik, who could convert de-activated weapons, citing a price of £850 for one gun.

The court was told a meeting was set up for November 3 last year at a Travelodge near Crewe where Vik was awaiting with the weapons to handover to Rae and Hamza.

Rae was shown the Baikal gun, which had been deactivated, along with ammunition and a silencer, and a Glock pistol.

The defendant allegedly asked for more ammunition and enquired of Vik if he could also get hold of an Uzi machine gun, adding: “Can you do shotguns?”

But after the cash and the gun, silencer and ammunition were exchanged, armed police burst in and Rae was arrested.

Rae was one of four children and lived in Manchester before moving to Preston to be near his older and younger sister, who both run businesses in the county.

He joined the King’s Division of the British Army in February 1997 but was discharged 14 months later.

He was convicted in 2004 of four robberies of betting shops in Manchester using an imitation handgun.

His defence lawyer, Rebecca Trowler QC, told jurors he knew the men were undercover operatives, he did not believe the guns were genuine and that he had deliberately intended to be prosecuted.

His links to ISIS have never been proven and were not part of this case.

Rae’s sister Lyndsay, a mum-of-two from Plungington, denied his links to the group.

She said: “It is all rubbish. He has been set up. He wasn’t going to Syria.

“When went to Cyprus it was for a genuine reason, to help refugees. He was never arrested.

“When he went on holiday the following year he’d forgotten about it. He had gone to work and had saved up money for a break. They had never been on a family holiday. “

Afterwards, the victim’s sister Denise described the loss of Steven as “emotionally and physcially draining”.

She added: “Steven was a loving father, a loving brother - he had his faults but he was always about family. Now that’s gone we are basically left bringing his family up.

“It’s going to be a long haul but we’ll get there as a family.

“We planned to have a big Christmas and New year get together but it was gone like a flash.

“We are not happy at all with the sentence but we’ll put in an appeal. It is what it is.

“They were both in the wrong place at the wrong. As far as Steven was concerned they were still together.

“We have no animosity towards the Cushnaghan family because they are in the same situation as what we are.

“I feel sorry that they are going through the same as what we are, but he’s still alive and Steven’s not.”