A Russian-speaking man accused of conducting hostile reconnaissance for a terrorist attack on a dissident Iranian TV station in West London told police he was on a weekend sightseeing visit in the capital, a court has heard.
Magomed-Husejn Dovtaev, 31, arrived at Gatwick from Vienna on the morning of 11 February this year and caught a taxi straight to Chiswick Business Park, paying in cash, the Old Bailey was told.
His visit was said to be the most recent in a sequence of at least three such visits by “others unknown”, beginning in the summer of 2022, following threats from the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence.
CCTV showed Dovtaev – a Chechen-born Austrian national – as he walked nonchalantly around Building 11 in the business park where the Iran International television station was then housed on the first floor, apparently taking video footage on his mobile phone.
When his trip was spotted by security guards, he told them that he was planning to see his brother but wanted to see the “beautiful” area and have a coffee.
However, one of the security guards realised that he was speaking on his Apple Airpod earphones and insulting them in Russian, calling them “motherf******” and “b******”.
They directed him to a Starbucks on the estate and called in armed police who arrested him as he sat at a table in the coffee shop, shortly before 11am.
Nick de la Poer KC, prosecuting, said Dovtaev “remained noticeably calm” and his reaction “was not of a person who was alarmed or surprised about the fact that he was being detained under the Terrorism Act by a number of armed and unarmed police officers”.
After he was handcuffed, Dovtaev told police he was waiting for his friend “Usman” who he knew from Chechnya but had not seen for three years.
He told police officers that he was planning to go back to Austria the next day but had not booked his return ticket.
Later, at the police station, Dovtaev elaborated, telling police that he was a family man who worked in IT in Austria and was paying a weekend visit to “see a friend and tour central London.”
In a statement handed to officers, he said he had gone to Chiswick Business Park in order to meet the friend and had taken a 25-second video in order to show his children the lake at the business park.
‘Deliberate untruths’ were ‘to conceal hostile reconnaissance’
Mr de la Poer told the court: “The prosecution’s case is that this and everything the defendant told the security guards and the police officers at the scene were deliberate untruths.”
Dovtaev is now said to have come up with another version, saying that he went to the business park because he was investigating whether fraudsters, who had defrauded him and his father out of large amounts of money, were operating from Building 11.
“The prosecution’s response will be that it is another dishonest attempt by the defendant to explain his interest in Building 11,” Mr de la Poer added.
The prosecutor told the jury: “The prosecution’s case is that he was not there to meet a friend, to look at the scenery or to have a coffee.
“The prosecution’s case is that he was carrying out hostile reconnaissance on Building 11.
“That is to say, he had travelled to the UK for the purpose of recording the security arrangements at the Chiswick Business Park in order that any vulnerabilities could be identified and exploited.”
The jury was told that the TV station he was observing had attracted controversy in Iran after reporting on protests by women following the death in detention of Mahsa Amini last autumn.
Iran International – a Persian language news broadcasting service – “regularly reports on the Iranian authorities in a way that it is highly critical, including in relation to alleged human rights violations,” Mr de la Poer told the court.
Following the channel’s reporting of the protests around Ms Amini’s death, in November 2022 Iran’s Minister of Intelligence declared the TV station to be a terrorist organisation.
Iran’s state media subsequently reported that those who worked for Iran International were “wanted” by the Ministry of Intelligence.
Mr de la Poer added: “As a result of the Iranian authorities’ attitude towards Iran International, the organisation and its employees all became targets for violent reprisals.
“As such, the security at their place of work was of very real and practical interest to those who might wish to carry out such reprisals, whether that was to attack the building itself or the employees.”
The prosecution did not suggest that Dovtaev planned to carry out such an attack or even that he knew anything about what was planned by others.
However, Mr de la Poer told the jury: “The defendant, no doubt acting on the instructions of others, went to the Chiswick Business Park for the purpose of gathering information about the security arrangements around Iran International.
“The very fact that the defendant went to collect this information for those who wanted to know about the security arrangements around Iran International demonstrates that planning by others was already under way.”
Dovtaev denies a single charge of attempting to collect information useful for terrorism and the trial continues.