IslingtonTribune

The independent London newspaper

Former special needs school caretaker jailed for sharing Isis propaganda online

Mehdi Bira, 45, worked at the Bridge School in Holloway until his arrest last year

08 September, 2017 — By William McLennan

Mehdi Bira was sentenced to 12 months in prison at the Old Bailey on Thursday

A FORMER caretaker at a special needs primary school in Islington has been jailed for sharing Isis propaganda videos online, it can be revealed.

Mehdi Bira, 45, who had worked at the Bridge School in Holloway until his arrest, was handed a 12-month sentence at the Old Bailey yesterday (Thursday) for posting two films on Facebook that “glorified terrorism” and sought to aid the recruitment of jihadist fighters.

His connection to the school in Hungerford Road only came to light last night after enquiries by the Tribune.

His arrest last September triggered an investigation at the school, which found that he had had “no unsupervised contact” with pupils and posed “no safeguarding implications”, Islington Council said.

The father-of-two, who lives in Camden, pleaded not guilty to disseminating terrorist material, but was found guilty last month following a trial at Woolwich Crown Court.

Describing the two videos, uploaded to Facebook in February 2016, Judge Andrew Lees said: “Their content is extreme and the potential for radicalising others is apparent.”

He described the videos as “abhorrent,” adding: “The graphic material was of an extreme nature, glorifying terrorism.” He said that sharing of the videos was “potentially very dangerous to society”.

The court heard that Mr Bira, originally from Algeria, had downloaded 48 terrorist-related videos as well as several editions of Dabiq, the Islamic State “magazine”.

He was also found to have trawled the internet for terrorist material, using search terms including “Isis” and “Jihadi John”.

Mr Bira has two daughters aged three and five. A statement from his wife, read to the court, said: “He is not a bad person. He is a good husband and father.”

Defence counsel Parveen Mansoor said that Mr Bira had not sought to radicalise others by sharing the videos and had downloaded the haul of extremist content “out of curiosity”.

But Judge Lees said that the trial jury had found that Mr Bira had “shared the sentiments of these videos” and dismissed claims that he was interested only out of sympathy with the victims. Addressing Mr Bira, he said: “I’m sure you were not viewing that material out of curiosity or to update yourself of current affairs.”

The school said in a statement that Mr Bira had “worked as a self- employed and part-time caretaker” and also “carried out some carpentry work and weekend reception cover”.

Executive headteacher Dr Penny Barratt said: “We take safeguarding extremely seriously. Following Mr Bira’s arrest, an investigation was conducted which concluded there were no safeguarding implications with regards to his time at The Bridge. We understand that his criminal activities were not connected with his work at the school in any way.”

Detective Chief Superintendent Clarke Jarrett, from the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command, said it was a “serious offence,” adding: “Such material supports terrorism and is often intended to influence and radicalise others.”

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