Women who ‘celebrated’ October 7 attack with paraglider images walk free after being found guilty of terror offence

13 February 2024, 14:40 | Updated: 13 February 2024, 15:05

The women displayed images of paragliders at a pro-Palestine march in central London a week after Hamas launched its attack on Israel
The women displayed images of paragliders at a pro-Palestine march in central London a week after Hamas launched its attack on Israel. Picture: Social Media

By Asher McShane

Three women have been found guilty of ‘celebrating’ the October 7 Hamas attack by displaying images of paraglider at a protest in central London.

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Heba Alhayek, 29, and Pauline Ankunda, 26, attached images to their backs and Noimutu Olayinka Taiwo, 27, stuck one to a placard's handle.

They were found guilty today at Westminster Magistrates' Court of a terror offence.

Giving his verdict, Deputy Senior District Judge Tan Ikram said: "Seven days earlier, Hamas went into Israel with what was described by the media as paragliders. A reasonable person would have seen and read that.

"I do not find a reasonable person would interpret the image merely as a symbol of freedom.

"I want to be clear, there's no evidence that any of these defendants are supporters of Hamas, or were seeking to show support for them."

The women were handed a 12-month conditional discharge.

Mr Ikram said he had "decided not to punish" the defendants.

"Each of you stands convicted of a terrorist offence," he continued. "There is nothing to suggest the police of their own volition were going to take any action.

"You've not hidden the fact you were carrying these images.

"You crossed the line, but it would have been fair to say that emotions ran very high on this issue.

"Your lesson has been well learnt. I do not find you were seeking to show any support for Hamas."

Prosecutors said the women used the imagery to ‘celebrate’ the Hamas terrorists’ tactics in the attack on Israel.

Prosecutor Brett Weaver told the court: "The displaying of these images could be viewed as celebrating the use of the paragliders' tactic.

"They had them on display for a significant period of time. Each of them would have been able to see what the others were doing," he said.

Read more: Jewish audience member 'hounded out’ of Soho Theatre by comedian Paul Currie

The Metropolitan Police launched a social media appeal to find them, and Alhayek and Ankunda later handed themselves in to Croydon Police Station, the court heard.

All three women were charged under the Terrorism Act with carrying or displaying an article to arouse reasonable suspicion that they are supporters of banned organisation Hamas.

Mark Summers KC, representing Alhayek and Ankunda, said the women were actually displaying a "cartoon parachute" used as a "symbol of peace".

Nick Price, head of the CPS Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division, said: “All three women knowingly displayed the images of paragliders in central London and therefore showed their support for Hamas – a proscribed terrorist organisation.  

“The fact that these images were being displayed in the context of a protest opposing the Israeli response to the Hamas attacks demonstrates a glorification of the actions taken by the group.

“Displaying these images could be viewed as celebrating the use of paragliders as a tactic to breach the Gaza/Israel border, and creates a risk of encouraging others to support Hamas.

“When people break the law – whether by hateful speech, supporting proscribed organisations or by threatening public order – we prosecute swiftly and independently.  

“We have already prosecuted a string of offences linked to events in the Middle East and we are working closely with the police and community leaders to make sure our approach commands public confidence.”

The pair initially claimed someone at the demonstration “who was not known to them” had stuck the images to their backs. They later admitted they had attached them themselves, the court was told.

When arrested an interviewed under caution, Taiwo claimed to have been handed the placard and not paid proper attention to the “blurry image”, the court heard.

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