Australian Islamic hardliner pays $2.6m for mosque

Supporters of one of the nation’s most hardline Islamic clerics have paid $2.65 million – about $850,000 higher than the nearest rival bid – for a mosque in Sydney’s southwest.

It is understood the mosque was bought for Sheikh Abdul Salam Mohammed Zoud and his growing congregation, who flock to a small prayer hall above a busy arcade in Sydney’s southwestern suburbs.

ASIO and other counter-terrorism agencies closely monitor the prayer hall and members of its congregation – one of whom has been charged with planning a terrorist attack with French terror suspect Willie Brigitte.

Islam / Islamism

Islamism is a totalitarian ideology adhered to by Muslim extremists (e.g. the Taliban, Wahhabis, Hamas and Osama bin Laden). It is considered to be a distortion of Islam. Many Islamists engage in terrorism in pursuit of their goals.

Adherents of Islam are called “Muslims.” The term “Arab” describes an ethnic or cultural identity. Not all Arabs are Muslims, and not all Muslims are Arabs. The terms are not interchangeable.

Brigitte has allegedly told French interrogators that Sheikh Zoud has terrorist links worldwide and was a recruiter for jihad in Australia.

Sheikh Zoud vehemently denies the allegations, saying he only met Brigitte once before his arrest and deportation from Sydney to France.

Sheikh Zoud married the Frenchman to former Australian soldier Melanie Brown at his prayer hall in Lakemba.

It is unclear if the prayer hall will subsequently close and its congregation move to the much larger mosque in the nearby suburb of Belmore.

Canterbury City Council has been reviewing the use of the Haldon Street hall after a series of traffic and noise complaints.

An unknown Islamic community group and businessman bought the Belmore mosque for Sheikh Zoud, who teaches the Salafia tradition of Islam – a purist form of the religion similar to Wahhabi.

It is understood Sheikh Zoud and other Salafi clerics in southwestern Sydney will meet in coming weeks to decide who should head the mosque and give Friday prayer services.

The number of Muslims following the Salafi tradition has increased in recent years, community leaders say.

The prayer hall is in the same building as the controversial Islamic Youth Movement, whose member Bilal Khazal and his brother were convicted in absentia in a Lebanese military court for raising money for a local terror group.

A group of more moderate Muslims hoping to buy the mosque for their congregation said the Burwood Road property sold for $850,000 more than they were prepared to pay.

The agent for the property said yesterday the mosque, which has been closed since last year, was sold last week ahead of Thursday night’s auction. The LJ Hooker agent refused to reveal the buyer and the price paid.

“There have been some issues with a couple of these groups and I cannot tell you who they are,” he said.

Sheikh Zoud could not be contacted for comment last night, his family saying he did not wish to speak to the media.

He heads the Sydney arm of the Ahl Al-Sunna Wal-Jamaah Association, run by the country’s most senior fundamentalist scholar Sheikh Mohammed Omran of Melbourne.

Sheikh Omran was named in Spanish court documents as having links to suspected al-Qa’ida Spanish leader Abu Dahdah, but denies any connections to terrorists.

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