‘I wanted to be a famous rapper’

A drill-rapping jihadi told a court he went to the same school as Jessie J and dreamt of becoming a famous musician as he denied plotting a terrorist attack.

Sahayb Abu, 27, allegedly bought an 18-inch sword, body armour, a Persian Qama knife, and a combat hat and gloves before his arrest last July 9.

He is said to have bought the weapons while plotting a terrorist attack throughout the first lockdown and sharing his views with brother his Muhamed Abu, 32.

Muhamed knew all about his sibling’s beliefs and was under a legal obligation to tell the authorities what he was up to but did not, jurors heard.

The pair were arrested following an operation involving the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command at their London addresses in July 2020.

Jurors have heard Sahayb unwittingly spoke with an undercover operative posing as a fellow extremist with whom he discussed buying guns.

He also sent the officer a photo of his two ISIS-supporting half brothers, Wail and Sulemain Aweys, who died fighting in Syria, the court was told.

The officer, known as Rachid, recognised the pair from another undercover operation three months earlier, it was said.

Wearing a blue dotted tie and a white shirt with black suit trousers and trainers, Abu appeared in the witness box denying he had ever planned a terrorist attack.

He accepted he had bought the items in question but asked whether he did so to carry out an attack, Abu said: ‘Of course not, no.’

Sahayb Abu told jurors he grew up in Ilford, east London with nine siblings and became interested in grime music and rap ‘clashes’ when he was at school.

He said he began rebelling from his strict father when he was a teenager after the patriarch allegedly subjected him to beatings with cables and belt straps.

Giving evidence, Sahayb said his father had two wives at the same time, each with nine children, and would ‘make an example’ of him when he misbehaved.

He said he would be chastised for watching rap music videos on TV and told to read the Quran instead.

When his father’s alleged violence didn’t stop, he began drinking and smoking cannabis because he ‘didn’t care anymore,’ Abu told the court.

Asked whether he did so with his father’s knowledge, he added: ‘That would be suicide, not with my father’s knowledge no, just did out of rebellion I guess.’

After failing his GCSEs he ran away from home and moved to France where he worked odd jobs and slept on benches to survive, the accused terrorist claimed.

Sahayb told jurors he eventually returned home to find his parents had divorced and his father had moved out and begged for his mother’s forgiveness.

‘I grew up in Ilford,’he said.

‘My dad had two wives at the same time while I was growing up.

‘They lived five or 10 minutes away.

‘We would [sometimes] sleep in the same bed, eat from the same plate, ride the same bikes. It was just like having brothers and sisters.’

‘How was the relationship between the two wives?’ Michael Ivers QC, defending, asked.

‘Now it’s not very good but back then we were just having fun as kids but we knew there were little tiffs and little fights little arguments between us but that was life and we just got along.’

Sahayb said he went to Mayfield secondary school in Dagenham, the same as popstar Jessie J, and was not a practising Muslim in his youth.

‘Jessie J went to my secondary school as well,’ he told jurors.

He grew up listening to grime artists Skepta and JME and aspired to become famous one day, the court heard.

‘I grew up on grime, JME, Skepta, and all those rappers were coming up and I was into that and I was more into that, Notorious B.I.G. and all those rappers,’ Abu said.

‘How did you interact with others?’ Mr Ivers asked.

‘I used to get beaten up a lot. I was made an example of basically I was neither too young nor too old so my father would use me as an example to the rest and I would get beaten up a lot,’ he replied.

Asked about his religious beliefs when he was younger, the accused terrorist said: ‘I wasn’t devout. When I was just 13, 14 I was more into just music and grime and drill hadn’t really come out because we’re talking 2003 and 2004 but everyone was talking about rap and clashing and tunes and this was the culture.

‘I grew up in on television and so on. Then my dad would come home and we’d have to switch that off and he would say where is your Quran?’

Sahayb added: ‘I didn’t do too well in my GCSEs. I went to redo them but I wanted other things in life. I wanted to be a musician, a rapper. I wanted to be famous.’

Detailing the alleged deterioration of his relationship with his father, Abu said: ‘He would physically beat me. I would get beaten up, flung across – it’s not funny but I have to laugh about it now.

‘I would get leather belts the wire of the Henry Hoover, kitchen spoons, punches, kicks, slaps, im talking physical bats. he would beat me up so i just dont care anymore.

‘I left… I did get a job, I worked in France. I grew up in France and I became independent in France so it was an experience… I lived on the streets and on benches.’

Asked what happened when he returned to the UK, Sahayb said: ‘I came back [to] the home I ran away from in 2009.

‘Everyone was there no one had left. All my brothers had grown and that and I was like “woah, I missed out on so much.”

‘[My parents] were divorced.’

Jurors have seen footage of Sahayb showing off a camouflage hat and and balaclava hat, commenting with apparent excitement: ‘Just waiting on the body armour.’

Voice note recordings of his songs were played to the court which capture him rapping about having a ‘suicide vest’ and ‘dropping bombs like Obama.’

He told police he was simply an online ‘troll’ parodying the drill genre of music and had not been making genuine threats, jurors have heard.

Sahayb Abu, of Mayfield Road, Dagenham, Essex, denies preparation of terrorist acts under Section 5 of the Terrorism Act 2006.

Muhamed Abu, of Doyle Road, South Norwood, southeast London, denies failing to disclose information about acts of terrorism under the Terrorism Act 2000.

The trial continues.


Sahayb Abu said he made ‘enough to pay off mortgages’ through a gambling addiction while his half-brothers who moved to Syria practiced their faith.

He claimed he had descended into a life of drugs and criminality when he returned to the UK after moving to France in 2009.

Sahayb said he became a ‘depressed gambler’ and had not been practicing Islam when he learnt his two half brothers had died in Syria.

Claiming his knowledge of current affairs at the time had been ‘close to zero,’ he denied ‘batting an eyelid’ over the conflict in the Middle East.

He claimed he had been ‘shocked’ to discover Wail was allegedly killed in an air strike while Sulemain was said to have been shot in the head.

Sahayb denied being close to the pair as teenagers, saying they had not spent much because they were practicing Muslims and knew he ‘smoked weed.’

‘I knew they were very faithful, way more practising than me and I wasn’t practicing at all and I was a bit embarrassed about that.

‘They were smart, the knew I was smoking weed and it was just a bit awkward so I wouldn’t chill with them that much,’ he told jurors.

He said he once bumped into them in a chance meeting at a snooker club in 2015 but it was while he was in the throes of his alleged gambling addiction.

The news that they had died ‘shattered’ the family, Sahayb said.

‘I was these times gambling gambling gambling, it was a crazy addiction,’ he claimed.

‘I knew there was oppression going on over [in Syria] but not more than that.

‘I was playing roulette, they call it the crack cocaine of gambling… I was gambling, taking drugs drinking alcohol. I’m not talking positive vibes I’m talking negative.

‘I was going down a spiral. I was depressed alcoholic and gambler.

‘I made grands, I could have paid mortgages off what I made,’ he said.

Jurors heard Sahayb Abu was convicted of a commercial burglary in 2018 and met well-known rapper Cbiz in jail as well as prisoners convicted of terrorist offences.

‘We know you were convicted of a commercial burglary 2018 and went to prison. Did you meet anyone convicted of terrorist offences?’ Mr Ivers asked.

‘Yes of course,’ Sahayb replied.

‘Who else did you meet?’

‘My cellmate and his next door was his co-defendant so we were cool with each other, they were in for theft or aggravated robbery, something like that.

‘The rapper Cbiz was in there. There were a lot of people involved in drill, grime rapping,’ Abu said.

Detailing his interest in grime, Sahayb said he used to rehearse the lyrics to Wiley, Skepta and JME songs and imitated them at school.

He told jurors the ‘criminality’ reflected in grime and drill music was not always the artist’s lifestyle but what fans ‘want to hear.’

‘Wiley Skepta, JME, now we’ve got Stormzy and all of that as well then America rappers as well 50 Cent and Jada Kiss… I was literally rehearsing their lyrics and going to school and move like them, talk like them, act like them and it was all that hype.

‘Grime especially there’s a lot of hype, there a lot of words you don’t believe in but you say because its what the consumers, the people listening to it want to hear.

‘I was learning lyrics, downloading it, putting it on my iPod and then listening to it on my way to school and whatever.

‘There’s some people who rap for the money and fame and theres some people who rap for the criminal elements of it meaning drugs, crime,’ Sahayb said.

‘So where you were growing up, were people in that area devotees of it?’ Mr Ivers asked.

‘Yeah there were a lot of drug dealers riding round in a nice car with a Rolex… thats how they talk, that’s how they groom kids. The lifestyle is there when you go to school around it,’ came the reply.

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