YEMEN: Where the elite meet to “misunderstand” Islam/The Australian
Counter-terrorism agencies are increasingly concerned about deepening links between a group of Australians under surveillance because of their connections with the Sydney terror cell and Islamic militants in Yemen, widely regarded as “the new Afghanistan” for al-Qa’ida.
Security agencies are monitoring the movements of at least 20 Australians who have travelled to Yemen in recent years, including friends and family of the nine men recently convicted and sentenced to up to 28 years in prison for preparing for a terrorist act in Sydney.
Authorities have also monitored mobile phone and email communications between some of them and a Yemeni militant group led by American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who the US claims is a leading recruiter and motivator for al-Qa’ida and its franchise groups.
Awlaki is wanted in connection with the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day. The accused bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, reportedly identified Awlaki as his recruiter and trainer.
The cleric also provided religious advice to US army major Nidal Malik Hasan, who is accused of murdering 13 people and wounding 30 more in a shootout at the Fort Hood army base last November.
Awlaki preaches that “hatred of kufr (non-Muslims) is a central element of our military creed” and urges Muslims to remain physically fit and train with firearms “to be ready for the battlefield”. Videotapes of his sermons have been circulated among a small group of admirers in Australia.
“His teachings are of great concern to us,” Detective Superintendent JohnÂ O’Reilly, commander of theÂ NSWÂ Police Counter-Terrorism and Special Tactics Operations Group told The Australian.
The Australians who have travelled to Yemen include a Sydney man who left for the Middle East late last year, only weeks after having his passport returned to him byASIO.Â It had been confiscated following anÂ ASIOÂ assessment that he was “likely to support or participate in acts of politically motivated violence”.
The man had previously travelled to Pakistan, where police say he trained with the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Toiba in 2000, before it was proscribed in Australia.
Former Australian Guantanamo Bay inmate David Hicks told Australian Federal Police the man had been in the same camp at the same time as him.
The Sydney man was named repeatedly during the recent terror trial, which culminated in the conviction and sentencing of five men on terrorism conspiracy charges in theÂ NSWÂ Supreme Court at Parramatta. Another four had already pleaded guilty.
The court heard that the man had been involved in buying laboratory equipment to be used in an attack but he was not charged because of insufficient evidence.
He had previously tried to visit Yemen in 2004, when arrangements were made for him by a friend from Sydney, Polish-born Marek Samulski, who had lived in Yemen.
Samulski was detained by Yemeni police in the capital, Sanaa, in 2006 during an investigation into an al-Qa’ida-linked group that the Yemeni authorities said was smuggling weapons to Islamist insurgents in neighbouring Somalia. Samulski, eventually released without charge, has not returned to Australia.
Australia’s ambassador for counter-terrorism Bill Paterson told a national security conference in Sydney last week that Yemen had effectively become a safe haven for militants much as Afghanistan was in the 1980s and 90s.