Australians recruited to Syria's war

Last updated 10:38 04/12/2013
Hamdi Alqudsi
LOCKED UP: Hamdi Alqudsi is in custody after being arrested on Tuesday.

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Hamdi Alqudsi claims to live a quiet, modest life.

Surviving on a disability pension and supposedly with less than A$500 to his name, he lives in a small western Sydney home with one of his two wives, Carnita Matthews, who stirred controversy of her own in 2011, when she refused to remove her burqa for police conducting a random breath test and pursued the matter in court.

But Australian police believe Alqudsi, 39, is one of several Australians running sophisticated, expensive and illegal schemes to send young Australian men to Syria to fight with terrorists.

Alqudsi was arrested on Tuesday and became the first Australian charged under the foreign incursion act since the conflict began, a breakthrough for police who believe about 100 Australians are fighting in Syria.

Without receiving any financial gain, Alqudsi allegedly provided the resources and was the ''conduit'' for six men to travel to Syria earlier this year to fight with terrorist organisations Jabhat Al-Nusra and al-Qaeda affiliates against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

One of the men he allegedly recruited, 23-year-old Amin Iman Mohamad from Lidcombe, was arrested at Brisbane Airport on Tuesday and charged with preparing to engage in foreign hostile activities.

The whereabouts of the other five are unknown.

A seventh man left Australia in October to fight with the rebels but his connection to Alqudsi was unclear, police said.

Alqudsi ''provided assistance by way of connecting persons ... counselling them as they make their way to Syria and receiving information back,'' according to police documents tendered in court.

Australian Federal Police Deputy Commissioner National Security Peter Drennan said he did not believe Alqudsi's alleged scheme was a one-off and police were monitoring similar possible recruitment networks.

However, he said it was nearly impossible to stop Australians from travelling abroad or to obtain intelligence in Syria to then charge them when they returned home.

Alqudsi's alleged network was undone when a joint terrorism unit made up of state and federal police used listening devices to monitor his communications in a four-month investigation.

It's understood Alqudsi, who also goes by the name Ibrahim Galiel, participated in violent Muslim protests in Sdyney's Hyde Park last year, has two wives and had raised A$32,000 to travel to the Hajj this year with  Matthews.

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However, in Bankstown Local Court on Tuesday, his lawyer Zali Burrows said he could only come up with A$500 surety to secure his bail because he lived on a modest disability pension.

Prosecuter Michael Allnutt said police intelligence suggested otherwise and he requested surety be set atA $20,000.

He was granted bail but ordered to remain in custody until he could muster a compromise amount of A$10,000.

Mohamed was also granted conditional bail.

While the police stressed the arrests were not related to any terrorism threat or incident at home, Australian Attorney-General George Brandis said Australians fighting in Syria had presented a very serious and long-term threat to the country's national security.

''I am concerned about the radicalisation of Australians as a result of the Syrian conflict, particularly those who return to Australia with the capabilities acquired through fighting or training with extremist groups,'' Senator Brandis said.

Six Australians - including a suicide bomber - are believed to have died fighting in the Syrian conflict.

About 100 are believed to have been engaged in combat.

According to research from the Norwegian terrorism expert Thomas Hegghammer, one in nine Westerners who trains or fights overseas with a jihadist insurgency group, returns to become involved in a terrorist plot.

If the charges are upheld in a court of law, it will be the first evidence of direct recruitment for the al-Qaeda-linked Jahbat al-Nusrah in Australia by Australians.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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