A Melbourne Muslim preacher has told a court he had heard rumours that a fellow preacher and his followers were planning an act of violence in Australia.
Samir Mohtadi said he had heard rumours in his community that the alleged leader of the group, Abdul Nacer Benbrika, and his young followers were planning an act of violence in response to Australia being “a land of war”.
Mr Benbrika is one of 13 Melbourne men facing terrorism charges.
Mr Mohtadi became worried and arranged to meet Mr Benbrika, 46, of Dallas, to speak about the rumours, he told the men’s committal hearing at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court today.
At the meeting Mr Benbrika denied he was going to do anything.
“He said it was a lie and I should bring the person who said it to talk to him about it,” Mr Mohtadi said in a police statement tendered to the court.
“I believed his denial as he had always been straight forward and honest with me.”
Mr Mohtadi is the director of the Islamic Information and Services Network of Australasia, in Coburg, in Melbourne’s north.
The network provides information and services to Muslims and non-Muslims about Islam.
He said he had known Mr Benbrika as they both attended the same mosque, also in Melbourne’s north.
He said he had heard that Mr Benbrika had told his students that Australia was a land of war, which if true, could justify jihad.
When Mr Mohtadi – who disagreed with this position – confronted him about this, Mr Benbrika said Australia was a country of war because of its involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr Mohtadi said.
“He believes … he has evidence that this country, Australia, is a land of war … because of the army, the Australian army in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Mr Mohtadi said.
He said he tried to convince Mr Benbrika that Australia was not a land of war.
However, in the end they agreed to disagree, he told the court.
Mr Mohtadi also said he had spoken to three of Mr Benbrika’s followers and they denied they were going to do anything stupid.
All of the 13 accused men are charged with being members of a terrorist organisation and related charges.
Ten of the men were arrested in pre-dawn raids in Melbourne and Sydney last November, while the other three were arrested in March this year.
The arrests were part of a two-year counter terrorism investigation called Operation Pendennis.
The hearing before Magistrate Paul Smith continues tomorrow.