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Monday, April 22, 2024

Behind Bars: London mother and daughter locked up for funding relative’s terrorist activities in Syria

A mother and daughter who sent money to a relative who had joined Daesh in Syria have been jailed, following a painstaking investigation by specialist Counter Terrorism officers at the Met.

Stella Oyella, 53 (06.04.70), and Vanessa Atim, 32 (11.07.91) both from east London, arranged for more than £1,800 to be sent to Joseph Ogaba, who in 2014 left the UK to join Daesh.

In July 2022, Syrian authorities reported that Ogaba had died whilst in prison, following his capture by Syrian Defence Forces.

Investigators were able to prove that Oyella and Atim knew that the cash was supporting Ogaba’s terrorist activities, and the evidence collected showed how they went to great efforts to cover their tracks, sending the money through contacts in Uganda and the Middle East.

Oyella and Atim were convicted of terrorist fundraising after a complex investigation led by officers from the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command, with support from Syrian authorities.

Stella Oyella. Image: Met Police

On Monday, 18 March, Oyella was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and Atim was jailed for three years and nine months.

Commander Dominic Murphy, who leads the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command, said: “These women went to great lengths to first arrange, and then distance themselves from money transfers to Ogaba. They knew he had travelled to Syria to join a terrorist group and by sending him cash, they helped him remain with Daesh.

“This case shows how we work with our international partners to close the net on people who support terrorist activity, no matter how much time has passed.”

In September 2014, Ogaba left his home in north London and travelled to Syria, via Germany and Turkey.

Ogaba, a Muslim convert, left a note for his family stating that he was going to join Daesh.

Vanessa Atim. Image: Met Police

Oyella is Ogaba’s sister, and Atim is his niece and Oyella’s daughter.

On 12 March 2018 and again on 21 December 2018, ports officers detained Atim at Heathrow and Gatwick Airports respectively, using powers under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

On each occasion, devices were seized and the contents downloaded by officers. They recovered messaging app conversations with references to money transactions.

The significance of these conversations became clear in 2019, when detectives analysed a computer hard drive linked to Ogaba and recovered by Syrian authorities the previous year.

On that hard drive, investigators found scans of money transfer receipts, and the dates, times and the monetary sums of these transactions aligned with those discussed in the messages.

The hard drive also held pictures of Ogaba, including evidence of his activities with Daesh, and extremist content with images of weapons and explosive devices.

Investigators were able to carefully piece together when and how the transactions were done. They established that between March and October 2017, Atim and Oyella arranged for the money to be collected in the UK before being transferred overseas – often first to someone in Uganda, and then to contacts in the Middle East who would pass the cash onto Ogaba.

Commander Murphy added: “The use of counter-terrorism powers by officers at the airport was crucial in discovering how Ogaba’s family members were supporting him financially.

“And it was the specialist skills of officers within our National Terrorist Financing Investigation Unit which helped pinpoint the transactions that led to this prosecution.”

Oyella and Atim were interviewed by counter terrorism officers in June and December 2021 respectively, and charged on 11 October 2022.

They were found guilty of terrorist fundraising (contrary to section 17 of the Terrorism Act 2000), after a trial at the Old Bailey which concluded on 20 December 2023.

The National Terrorist Financing Investigation Unit (NTFIU) is based within the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command and is comprised of specialist investigators, analysts and researchers who investigate suspicious financial activity where they believe it may have links to terrorism.

Communities defeat terrorism, and information from the public is vital to counter terrorism investigations. If you see or hear something unusual or suspicious and think someone may be engaging in terrorist activity, trust your instincts and act by reporting it in confidence at gov.uk/ACT or the anti-terrorist hotline on 0800 789 321. In an emergency, dial 999.

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