- Former serviceman did tour of Iraq in 2003 supporting RAF aircrews
- Mancunian later converted to Islam and saw soldiering as 'hobby'
- He associated with Manchester-based extremist and went to Syria
- The 32-year-old said he was trying to join a different group to ISIS
An RAF aircraftman who converted to Islam has become the first Iraq veteran to be jailed for trying to travel to Syria to wage jihad.
Stephen Gray, who converted to Islam after leaving the RAF, had already made two trips to Syria using aid convoys as cover before he was stopped by the authorities, it can be disclosed.
Gray, also known as Mustafa Deen, is the only British serviceman to have admitted trying to join Islamist extremists.
He was jailed for five years at Woolwich Crown Court.
Stephen Gray, who converted to Islam after leaving the RAF, has been jailed for trying to join extremists in Syria. He talked about his experience on YouTube in a video called 'Can a Muslim travel?
Gray was helped by Abdalraouf Abdallah, a wheelchair-bound extremist from Manchester who was shot in the back during the Libyan uprising at the age of 17 and then treated on the NHS.
Abdallah, who was jailed for five and a half years, became close to Gray, who was ten years his senior, after they met while playing football some years earlier.
Gray, 32, from Old Trafford, Manchester, who is half English and half Irish, has two wives, the second, a Kenyan by whom he had three children.
He had served as a senior aircraftman in No 2 Squadron of the RAF Regiment, soldiers who provide armed support on the ground for operations by the RAF.
Gray was part of a small team sent to secure Baghdad airport during the Iraq war in 2003 and his lawyer said he went through some 'fairly extreme experiences.'
He became 'disenchanted' and left the RAF before converting to Islam and working as a bricklayer and a cleaner.
But Gray still considered soldiering a 'hobby', according to Abdallah, who said he organised 'war games' with pellet guns at a company called First And Only Events in which they would stop for prayers during the training.
Gray was helped by Abdalraouf Abdallah (pictured), a wheelchair-bound extremist from Manchester
In pre-trial hearings, Gray admitted travelling to Syria on two previous occasions.
Gray said he travelled to Idlib in Northern Syria after hearing something about a bombardment by the Assad regime.
He stayed for three months before returning and then went back at the end of 2012 for a few weeks, claiming he was building houses and distributing aid. He later admitted he would have taken up arms if necessary.
On July 3 2014, Gray took a flight from Manchester to Barcelona. From there they continued to Rome and then Istanbul, but Gray was turned back in Turkey.
Gray then tried for a second time, travelling by Eurostar from London to Brussels on July 9, and getting as far as Bulgaria before he was turned back and his passport confiscated back in Britain.
A friend he travelled with on the first attempt was later pictured in Raqqa, ISIS's de-facto capital city and headquarters.
On his return, he tried to claim he was working on a travel blog and posted a series of Youtube videos, talking about his attempts to cross the continent, called: 'Can a Muslim travel?'
However, he gave up the pretence in September last year and pleaded guilty to two counts of preparing acts of terrorism and a third count of funding terrorism.
Gray said his prosecution for joining ISIS was the 'pinnacle of embarrassment' and claimed he was still loyal to his country.
In a letter to the judge, he said he had worked with the SAS and would 'never, never, in any way shape or form, do anything, absolutely anything, to hurt or jeopardise the safety and security of the United Kingdom or our allies.'
'I am not a risk or a danger to the UK or its allies. It is deeply offensive to me just to have this accusation made against me,' Gray wrote.
The former serviceman denied trying to join ISIS and said that instead he was heading out to join a different armed group, Ahrar al-Sham.
'I firmly deny any suggestion, any accusation that I wanted to join a death cult and had a death wish. This is a completely bogus picture of me,' Gray told the judge.
Abdallah, 22, from Moss Side, Manchester, had dropped out of college in Manchester and joined the Western-backed uprising in Libya in 2011.
Born in Peshawar in Pakistan he was said to have later become 'the centre of a jihadist network facilitating foreign fighters' and to be 'directing operations on a daily basis.'
Abdallah was found guilty of assisting travel to Syria and providing funds for terrorism.
Both Gray and Abdallah will serve an extra four years on licence so they can be monitored beyond the end of their sentences.