April 16, 2014
A masked al-Qaida fighter in Syria described as a former Arsenal footballer has been identified as a Portuguese citizen, it can be disclosed. The man appeared in a video released online two weeks ago urging others to join the jihadists, using a false name and speaking in a heavy accent. The video was posted in an account linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) which is associated with al-Qaida. The player was using the nickname Abu Isa Andaluzi, and the caption said: “An ex-football player (Arsenal of London), who left everything for jihad.”
They believe the man is an individual called Celso Rodrigues Da Costa who had been living in Leyton, east London with his two brothers. It is unclear whether he had trials for Arsenal or ever had any association with the club. Sources at Arsenal say they do not believe he was a full-time player but he may have attended coaching sessions, when potential players are assessed before signing for the club at the age of 16. A spokesman for the club said: “We do not recognise the individual from the published clips and we don’t have any record of a Mr Celso Rodrigues Da Costa representing the club at any level.”
He is not the first footballer to be killed in Syria with Burak Karan, 26, a player for the under-17 German national squad being killed in October after a bomb was dropped from a Syrian Air Force jet on the village of Azaz, near the Turkish border. In 2003, Nizar Trabelsi, a former professional football player with Fortuna Düsseldorf and Wuppertal in Germany was sentenced to 10 years in jail for his association with al-Qaeda and for plotting to attack US targets including American soldiers stationed at the Belgian airbase Kleine Brogel.
In November, 2001 author Adam Robinson claimed in his biography ‘Bin Laden: Behind The Mask of Terror’ that Osama bin Laden had attended four matches at Arsenal’s ground in Highbury when he visited London in the 1990s. He said that Bin Laden witnessed Arsenal’s run to the European Cup Winners’ Cup final in the 1993-1994 season and was so enthralled by George Graham’s side that he bought his eldest son, Abdullah, an Ian Wright replica shirt.
Arsenal enforced an immediate ban saying he wouldn’t be welcome in the future.