Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Police declare jihad on Jack

Yesterday, Melbourne man Jack Thomas made unwanted legal history. He is the first subject of a control order since the advent of the 2005 Australian anti-terror laws. On Sunday, federal police successfully convinced a Canberra magistrate that Thomas should be the first Australian subjected to the Howard Government's control order regime. Thomas was on a beach in South Gippsland with his wife and children on Monday when he was ordered to return to Melbourne. Under the terms of the control order, he is now under a strict night-time curfew at his parents' house, must check in at a police station three times a week and is banned from using any telephone that has not been approved by federal police. Jack Thomas is also specifically barred from contacting Osama bin Laden, whom he met in Afghanistan in 2001. Thomas, dubbed “Jihad Jack” by the media, had his conviction on terrorism offences quashed in the Victorian Court of Appeal on Friday 18 August.

Muslim convert Joseph "Jack" Thomas was found guilty in February of accepting AUD $5,000 and a plane ticket from an al-Qaeda agent in Pakistan. The former taxi driver was the first person to be convicted under new Australian anti-terror legislation adopted in October 2002 (and revised in December 2005). He faced a maximum of 25 years in prison. In March he was sentenced to five years jail with a non-parole period of two years. The appeal court has now acquitted on two charges of receiving funds from a terrorist network and for carrying a falsified passport. The court ruled Thomas's interview with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) in Pakistan was inadmissible evidence.

The court heard that Thomas had visited al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan shortly before the 9/11 attacks. The prosecution alleged Thomas trained in al-Qaeda bases there before moving to Pakistan. In November 2004, Thomas returned to Australia and was promptly arrested. His lawyer had argued for lenience, saying that Thomas never had any intention of becoming an al-Qaeda operative and accepted the money and plane ticket because he wanted to return home. His family also allege government intimidation and treatment similar to Guantanamo Bay detainees. For three months until mid February 2005 he was confined in Barwon maximum security prison, in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day

Prosecutor Nick Robinson is calling for a retrial based on fresh information he alleges emerged in the ABC's Four Corners post trial interview with Thomas. The Four Corners transcript of 27 February 2006 is listed as “currently unavailable for legal reasons”. However the Australian newspaper printed the full transcript on 21 August. Jack Thomas is 32 years old, married and has three children. In his own words, he converted to Islam after “dabbling with Buddhism and the occult”. Thomas sought a Muslim name and was drawn to the Arabic word meaning striving or struggle. And so "I chose the name Jihad, an Aussie battler or struggler. From there we got from the media the lovely headlines,” he told 4 Corners. His wife Maryati is the daughter of an Indonesian policeman with degrees in arts and information systems from Monash University. Through his wife, Thomas became involved in the local Indonesian community, many of whom were exiled opponents of the former dictator Suharto and supported an Islamic state in Indonesia.

In 2000, Thomas met Jemaah Islamiyah's leader, Abu Bakar Bashir, during a stopover in Malaysia after going on the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca. Bashir’s wife was a schoolfriend of Thomas’s wife. In March 2001, Thomas went to Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban in their war against the Northern Alliance. Through Melbourne contacts, Thomas was introduced to a Taliban commander who vetted him, then sent him to a mountain training site near Kandahar for new recruits called Camp Faruq. Bin Laden was a frequent visitor to the camp usually accompanied by his chief adviser, the Egyptian surgeon Dr Ayman al Zawahiri. Thomas saw him there three times and shook hands once. Here he also met and befriended David Hicks. At the end of their training Thomas and Hicks both went to the frontline. Thomas wasn’t sent into combat and went back to Kabul. He was in Kabul on September 11, 2001. When the Americans invaded Afghanistan, Thomas sent his family to Indonesia and he stayed on to fight.

Eventually he fled to Pakistan where he spent a year in hiding staying in Laskar-e-Toiba safehouses. He was contacted by a senior Al-Qaeda member Khalid Bin Attash who asked him to return to Australia and work for them. Attash gave Thomas US$3,500 in cash and a plane ticket back to Australia. The prosecution would later claim that by accepting the ticket and the money, Thomas was agreeing to work for al Qaeda. Thomas was arrested when he attempted to fly out of Karachi in January 2003. He was interrogated and tortured by Pakistan's notorious intelligence agency, the ISI and the CIA. Two weeks into his detention, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and ASIO sent agents to interview him. Under Australian law they were obliged to offer him access to a lawyer. They told him he was entitled to one, but that none would be available. It was this interview that the Court of Appeals deemed illegal. In June 2003 he was released and flew home to Melbourne. It was not until November 2004 that ASIO and the Federal Police finally moved to arrest him. His short trial occurred three months later.

His family have vowed to fight the control order. His brother Les says the move is a political stunt. "The timing is just extraordinary and we're hoping that this can be overturned promptly," he said. Attorney-General Philip Ruddock defended the granting of the interim order when Mr Thomas's charges had been quashed. "The issue is about protecting the Australian community and not punishing a person for an offence," he said. "If you work on the assumption that only those people who could be convicted of an offence are subject to a control order, then you wouldn't have control orders."

The interim order will be subject to further proceedings in the Federal Magistrates Court later this week.

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