A Chechen-born man accused of being an “international terrorist” conducting hostile reconnaissance against a dissident Iranian TV station in West London has claimed he was “set up”.
Magomed-Husejn Dovtaev, 31, is accused of conducting surveillance on Iran International at the Chiswick Business Park in West London on 11 February this year.
He told the Old Bailey he “simply liked” buildings at the business park and was “in wonder” at the architecture while trying to explain why he had taken a video on his phone in the area.
His visit was said to be the most recent in a sequence of at least three such visits by “others unknown”, beginning in the summer of 2022, following threats from the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence against the TV station.
Security guards spotted Dovtaev’s suspicious behaviour and used CCTV to identify his movements before confronting him and calling in armed police.
‘I was in wonder of such architecture’
Giving evidence in his defence, Dovtaev admitted that he had taken a video on his phone in the middle of the business park.
He told the court: “You have got these buildings and in the middle of it you have got the lake and I was in wonder of such architecture, I quite simply liked it.”
Dovtaev claimed that he had been sent to Britain by his brother, Bashar – who was living in Istanbul but using a Russian WhatsApp number – in order to investigate fraudsters who had stolen money from his father.
His father, a lorry driver, had been involved in the Chechen opposition and fled to Austria in 2004 when Dovtaev’s uncle was kidnapped by the Russians, he told the jury.
His father lost his job in 2022, following the pandemic, and invested 20,000 euros with Russian-speaking fraudsters, the court heard.
Image: Iran International TV west London studio. Pic: Iran International TV
Trip to London over ‘family problem’ linked to ‘fraudsters’
Dovtaev also invested 3,000 euros with the fraudsters, through his father, and the family was encouraged by the Austrian police to investigate the fraud themselves, he said.
He worked as an IT technician with Steinbauer IT and Albi, in Graz, Austria, is married to a nurse and has three children, he told the court.
“I have travelled to pretty much all European countries except Scandinavia. I travel with my family but also alone and with friends,” he added, through a German translator – though he had never been to the UK before.
During a visit to his brother in Istanbul in January this year, the brother put him in touch with a man called Shukhrat Sadikov who “had many contacts and eventually he would be able to help me with our shared family problem”.
After arriving back in Austria, Dovtaev said his brother contacted him and said he was booking a flight for him to London, although he did not know why the ticket was booked through an address in Baku, Azerbaijan.
“It was Friday after a long hard week at work and me and my friends went out drinking to have some fun,” he said.
He did not sleep and his friend Idris drove him to Vienna Airport from Graz, where he logged onto his email and was sent details of the business park by his brother, Dovtaev explained.
Read more from Sky News:Three people found guilty of murder of schoolgirl 27 years agoUK spy agency reveals ‘toughest’ Christmas challenge
Image: Dovtaev was detained by armed police
‘Simple explanation’ for change of clothes
Arriving at London Gatwick, he bought a new SIM card for his phone at WH Smith because the Austrian one was not working, he said.
He then went to The Beehive Wetherspoon pub in the airport’s South Terminal and drank three or four glasses of beer in the space of 52 minutes, sending a photo of a pint of beer to his friend Idris.
He caught a taxi to West London, paying 150 euros in cash, and receiving £10 change.
As he got out of the taxi at 10.03am, Dovtaev changed a New Balance cap for a Chechnyan opposition cap and pulled a snood over his mouth before entering the business park at 10.14am.
He told the court: “There is a simple explanation for that. This is a symbol of freedom of Chechnya. It is one that every Russian speaker knows and I wanted to clarify with that that the one who has been defrauded yesterday is there today to pose questions.
“He would immediately have a think and know what he’s done – yesterday he has defrauded a Chechen person.”
‘I had somehow been set up… tricked’
Dovtaev claimed he was “very surprised, I must say, that there were all these security personnel standing by” outside the business park.
He called his brother on the Russian WhatsApp number and his brother rang him back as he entered the business park and went around the side of Building 11, where the TV station was then based, looking for the front.
He was talking to his brother on the Signal app when he was approached by the security guards.
“I explained to him that things weren’t looking the way we expect them to be and the building was heavily under surveillance,” Dovtaev told the court.
He admitted swearing in Russian to his brother on the phone, calling the security guards, “m************” and “b******”.
He suspected some “foul play” he said, adding: “I have used such words quite often.”
He had planned to walk into the office building, find some Russian speakers and “confront them” but he told the court: “I felt that there wasn’t really a plan anymore and that I had somehow been set up, tricked and drawn in and didn’t know who lay behind this.”
Dovtaev agreed that he was being accused of being an “international terrorist” when he was surrounded by armed police after going into Starbucks.
He denies a single charge of attempting to collect information useful for terrorism and the trial continues.
Source : Sky News