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Three pro-Palestine protesters found guilty of terror offence over paraglider images

Pauline Ankunda, 26, Heba Alhayek, 29, were seen in footage of a protest on 14 October (Metropolitan Police)
Pauline Ankunda, 26, Heba Alhayek, 29, were seen in footage of a protest on 14 October (Metropolitan Police)

Three people have been found guilty of a terror offence after displaying images of paragliders at a pro-Palestine march in London, in the wake of Hamas’s cross-border attack in Israel.

Heba Alhayek, 29, and Pauline Ankunda, 26, taped images of paragliders to their backs, while Noimutu Olayinka Taiwo, 27, stuck one to the handle of a placard – seven days after militants from Hamas used paragliders to enter Israel from Gaza on 7 October.

They were charged under the Terrorism Act with carrying or displaying an article to arouse reasonable suspicion that they are supporters of the banned organisation Hamas, which they denied.

A lawyer representing two of the defendants had said police were “mistaken” about what they saw that day, and that the images were in fact of cartoon parachutes, “a well-known nationalist symbol of peace”.

Heba Alhayek, 29, (left) and Pauline Ankunda, 26, were found guilty at Westminster Magistrates’ Court (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Heba Alhayek, 29, (left) and Pauline Ankunda, 26, were found guilty at Westminster Magistrates’ Court (Jonathan Brady/PA)

But following a two-day trial at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, the trio were found guilty on Tuesday after prosecutors argued it was “no coincidence” the defendants were displaying the images so soon after the attack.

Giving his verdict, 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.”

Judge Ikram said he had “decided not to punish” the defendants, and handed the trio each a 12-month conditional discharge.

Noimutu Olayinka Taiwo was also convicted over carrying a sign with an image of a paraglider affixed to it (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Noimutu Olayinka Taiwo was also convicted over carrying a sign with an image of a paraglider affixed to it (Jonathan Brady/PA)

“You crossed the line, but it would have been fair to say that emotions ran very high on this issue,” he added. “Your lesson has been well learned.

“I do not find you were seeking to show any support for Hamas.”

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

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

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

Giving evidence on Monday, journalist Victoria Brittain, who is a patron of the group Palestine Solidarity, said a parachute was a “typical Palestinian symbol of flight and escaping prison”.

Ms Brittain, who was present at October’s demonstration, said balloons and kites had also been used with the same meaning. But when questioned by the prosecution, she said she had not seen any images of parachutes at the march.

Following the verdict, Nick Price of the Crown Prosecution Service 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.”

Additional reporting by PA