Australian to fight terror conviction

An Australian man who became the first to be found guilty under tough new anti-terrorism laws is to appeal against his conviction on charges of receiving funds from an associate of Osama bin Laden.

    Thomas spent months in jihadi training camps in Afghanistan

    Joseph Terrence Thomas, a former taxi driver, faces up to 25 years in jail after being found guilty on charges of receiving $3500 and a plane ticket from senior al-Qaida agent Khalid bin Attash after training at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan in 2002.

    A jury of nine women and three men on Sunday also found him guilty of possessing a false passport.

    Thomas, a 32-year-old father of three, was acquitted on two charges that he had intentionally provided support and resources to Bin Laden's network between July 2002 and January 2003.

    Robert Stary, his lawyer, said in Melbourne that Thomas would appeal against both convictions, delivered after a week-long trial in Victoria state's Supreme Court, once his sentence was handed down.

    Thomas faces a pre-sentencing hearing in Melbourne on Thursday.

    Tough on terror

    Philip Ruddock, the Australian attorney-general, on Monday rejected criticism made by Thomas's lawyers during the trial that he was the victim of a "trophy trial" designed to show that the Australian police were being tough on terrorism.

    Ruddock told the Australian parliament in Canberra: "To suggest that this was some form of trophy trial is quite inappropriate, and to suggest that this case demonstrates that people of Muslim faith should not cooperate with authorities is, I think, quite inappropriate for an officer of the court.

    "What this case demonstrates very clearly is that, if you get involved with terrorists and their activities, then you do so at your own peril," he said.

    Thomas saw the Taliban as the
    keepers of ideal Islamic faith

    Thomas was the first Australian to be charged with receiving funds from and providing support for al-Qaida, and the fifth to face charges under tough anti-terrorism laws introduced by US ally Australia in 2002.

    The Australian convert to Islam has told how his search for the meaning of life led him to the jihadi training camps of Afghanistan.

    Details of the fresh-faced Thomas's odyssey were published on Monday in The Age newspaper, which interviewed him before his trial.

    "I might be naive and I might be an idealist, but I am not a dickhead who will help to hurt innocent people," he told the newspaper in interviews where he was sometimes accompanied by his mother, a nurse.

    Thomas's father is a retired schoolteacher. Both parents, along with his Indonesian wife and three young children, have stood beside Thomas since his arrest in November 2004.

    "I am a fifth-generation Australian - 105 years Irish-Australian. The offer to come home and be a sleeper agent where my family lives is totally ridiculous."

    Religious exploration

    His mother, Patsy, said Thomas had always explored religion, looking for answers to his existence. "He has always been trying to find himself and find where he fits."

    He explored occultism and Buddhism before he converted to Islam, began to use the name Jihad and headed to Afghanistan in March 2001 to seek the ideal Islamic society under the country's former Taliban rulers.

    "What this case demonstrates very clearly is that, if you get involved with terrorists and their activities, then you do so at your own peril"

    Philip Ruddock,
    Attorney-general, Australia

    He volunteered for military training to help the group to fight a civil war and ended up in the al-Farooq camp, where he said Bin Laden was a regular visitor.

    Thomas spent one week on the front line but saw no combat before the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US. After the Taliban collapsed under the US-led invasion later that year, Thomas fled to Pakistan.

    There, he hid in safe houses for 13 months before being detained by the Pakistani authorities in January 2003 and held for almost five months.

    Thomas said he was choked and suffocated while Pakistani and American CIA agents interrogated him, demanding to know when the next attack would be.

    Return home

    Thomas said that after he was released without charge, he was given $3500 and an airline ticket home from an associate of Bin Laden's called Khalid bin Attash, who had told him: "Osama wants a white boy."

    Thomas said that while Bin Attash had asked him to prepare for an attack, he accepted the money and plane ticket simply because he wanted to return home to his family and had no intention of becoming an al-Qaida operative.

    He said he remained a devout Muslim, but now understood that international conflict was "never about religion - people just use it".

    SOURCE: Agencies


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