Eight men charged with recruiting for so-called Islamic State may have links with missing British journalist in Syria

  • Report by ITV News Security Editor Rohit Kachroo

An east London man is among eight men charged by Portuguese authorities for helping to recruit jihadis for so-called Islamic State.

The group are suspected of having links with the abduction of British journalist John Cantlie, who was kidnapped in 2012, Portuguese authorities have confirmed. His whereabouts remain unknown.

Nero Saraiva, a Portuguese national who became a permanent resident in the UK, was captured in Syria, is said to be the ringleader of the group.

One of the eight suspects who currently lives in London was tracked down by ITV News close to his home earlier this week, but refused to answer questions about the allegations outlined in a Portuguese police file which claim he was part of a network which used fraud to fund the recruitment of young British men to travel to Syria.

“I don’t want to talk about Nero... I don’t want to talk about things that happened ten years ago," he told ITV News.

Nero Saraiva (left) travelled to Syria in 2012 where he continued to organise a recruitment operation. John Cantlie (right) went missing in Syria in 2012. Credit: SÁBADO/Handout

Two of the defendants have been questioned in Portugal, with one still in custody. The location of the other suspects is unclear, although it is believed one of the suspects is being held in Syria.

Nero Saraiva is said to have travelled to Syria in 2012, where he continued to organise a recruitment operation using friends who stayed behind in Europe and money raised in London through fraud.

Saraiva and his team advised recruits on which flights to book to get to Syria, the appropriate clothes to wear when travelling and even arranged for intermediaries to meet them once they arrived in Syria.

The network targeted young men in Lisbon and London, including one “petty criminal” who was arrested during the riots in 2011, according to an investigation carried out by ITV News in conjunction with Portuguese magazine SÁBADO.

Taroughi Haydari from London can be revealed as one of the men recruited by Saraiva’s network. Credit: ITV News/SÁBADO

The network is thought to have helped “several” militants to reach Syria during 2013.

Saraiva’s work in Syria was supported in Lisbon by friends including brothers Celso and Edgar Rodrigues da Costa, who later went to Syria to fight.

They are thought to have married London twins Reema and Zara Iqbal while living under so-called Islamic State.

CCTV images contained in a Portuguese police file and seen by ITV News appear to show members of the network at work during the summer of 2013.

Edgar Rodrigues da Costa and an associate are pictured welcoming two British men to Lisbon airport - the first leg of a journey that would eventually take the London recruits to Syria.

Saraiva, who used the alias Abu Yaqub al-Andalusi, was captured after escaping so-called Islamic State's "Caliphate" during the final battle for Baghouz last spring, and has since been questioned by American interrogators while in Kurdish custody.

The whereabouts of Taroughi Haydari are unknown. Credit: ITV News/SÁBADO

Taroughi Haydari, from London, can be revealed as one of the men recruited by Saraiva’s network.

Haydari, whose current whereabouts are unknown, is thought to have been brought to Syria with the help of Saraiva and his associates.

A relative of Haydari who asked not to be identified described his shock following his sudden departure in 2013.

“One day he didn’t come home and didn’t answer his mobile,” he told ITV News.

“His sister searched and he was not there, and when she saw the passport was gone she thought he had definitely gone somewhere....

"She was crying all the time.

“After a few days when his mobile disconnected, the police came, about six or 10 vans surrounded our house and searched everything from four o’clock in the morning to noon.”

A third "recruit’ – a 29 year old businessman from east London - is believed to have changed his mind about going to Syria by time he reached Turkey, and returned to the UK. He has refused to respond to several requests for an interview made by ITV News.

Last year ITV News revealed that Nero Saraiva attended a so-called Islamic State commander’s "call to arms" in Syria during the early days of the terror group.

Foreign fighters were ordered to play a lead role in the fight for territory.

The presence of a Scottish ambulance seen in the background of the footage of the speech helped us to establish links to the UK.