Further proof of the central role the mosque plays in the jihad against the non-believers. – Pamela Geller
Sydney sheikh Zouheir Issa accused of funding Australian jihadist leading militia in Syria conflict
Zouheir Issa has been preaching at the south-west Sydney mosque, Al-Azhar, since coming to Australia in 2005. An adherent of the ultraconservative Salafi Islamic strain, he is no friend to the Syrian government of Bashar al Assad.
But what has been unrevealed until now is that Australian authorities believe he has provided funding to Houssam Sabbagh – a Lebanese man who lived in Sydney for two decades but is today a powerful militia leader in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.
Sunni rebels declare new ‘Islamic caliphate’
Mr Sabbagh is regularly described in the Lebanese press as being involved with Al Qaeda and helping to provide fighters and weapons for jihadist groups fighting in Syria, including the Al Qaeda-linked group, Jabhat Al-Nusrah.
Funding organisations such as Al-Nusrah, which is a proscribed terrorist organisation in Australia is a crime.
The allegations will concern authorities, who are already on the alert due to the dozens of young Australians who have travelled to Syria to fight with groups such as Al-Nusrah and the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS).
“It’s the greatest security threat to Australia this century,” former head of counter terrorism for Scotland Yard, Nick O’Brien, told the ABC.
“What we have is a number of Australians who are going over to conflict areas to fight, they’re getting trained in how to use explosives and how to use guns and ammunition and if they come back to Australia they’re going to come back with a reinforced mindset.”
Mr Issa told the ABC this week that he did not know Mr Sabbagh well and had never funded him.
That statement is contradicted by long-time Lebanese militant salafi network watcher, Bernard Rougier.
“Everybody who knew [Sabbagh] or who was close to him said there was a good relationship with Sheik Issa,” Mr Rougier says.
Court documents reveal link between Issa and jihadist groups
The ABC has obtained Lebanese court documents from 2007 which state that Issa and Sabbagh were leading figures in two jihadi groups – Asbat Al-Ansar and Fatah Al-Islam – that were responsible for a series of attacks on Western interests and pitched battles with Lebanese security forces between 2004 and 2007.
The militant groups were funded by Al Qaeda had sworn allegiance to the global jihadist outfit, which was then led by Osama bin Laden. Mr Sabbah was in charge of military operations, arms and explosives and Mr Issa was the deputy emir, or leader, of the group.
Mr Issa may be funding Mr Sabbagh because Salafi sheikhs are expected to do more than simply make speeches about conflicts such as the Syrian war, Mr Rougier says, and funding was a common way of being seen to be involved when direct participation is not possible.
“You have to do something in order to be locally legitimate. Sheikh Issa has to do something in the Middle East in order to be legitimate in Australia,” he said.
Mr Issa is not the only Australian accused of funding people in Syria.
Sydney man Mohamad Zuhbi, who describes himself as an aid worker, travelled to Syria 15 months ago to provide humanitarian relief in the country’s rural north west.
His Australian bank account was frozen recently, and believes theÂ Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) was behind the decision.
“The bank initially denied closing the account. Upon investigating further they discovered it was locked from a higher ranked person and couldn’t give me a reason,” he said.
“In reality it is a very low move as we had never indicated any funds were going toward anything illicit or illegal.”