Extremists brainwash young: Imam

The Australian, July 31, 2003
By Trudy Harris

Extremists preaching social disharmony and intolerance are visiting Australia specifically to target young Muslims, the spiritual leader of the nation’s Islamic community has warned.

Sheikh Taj Din Al Hilaly accused the Immigration Department of failing to vet visiting Islamic speakers who were brainwashing young Muslims with extreme right-wing doctrine.

He said small shops and rooms in suburbs in Sydney and other capital cities were being rented for these preachers, because many mosques barred them from speaking.

Sheikh Hilaly nominated the increased popularity of these speakers among young Muslims as the single biggest issue facing the nation’s 450,000-strong Islamic community. While they did not preach terrorism or violence outright, their rigid interpretation of the Koran was a concern for moderate Muslims.

He said he feared for the future if the trend were not reversed.

“This is like dropping a bomb on the community; it is very divisive,” he said.

“They are against most aspects of community and social harmony. They believe New Year’s greetings is a sin, Merry Christmas is a sin, being friendly with outsiders is a sin.”

Sheikh Hilaly, who is head Imam at Lakemba Mosque in western Sydney, said up to 40 speakers visited annually, but he declined to name them or the young Muslim groups they targeted.

However, the Islamic Youth Movement, based in Sydney’s Lakemba, has come under scrutiny from ASIO. Its website has run the speeches of Osama bin Laden and alleged Jemaah Islamiah leader Abu Bakar Bashir. ASIO and the Australian Federal Police raided the homes of some Muslims who had heard Abu Bakar speak during his visits to Australia before the bombings in Bali.

Sheikh Hilaly said British-based al-Qa’ida operative Abu Qatada – described as bin Laden’s ambassador in Europe – entered the country in the 1990s and went on a speaking tour. He said pockets of followers of Qatada, a Muslim cleric jailed in Britain, were still in Australia.

A spokesman for the Immigration Department said Qatada had visited in December 1994, but a subsequent visa request in 1996 was refused on advice from ASIO.

The spokesman said character requirements for entry to Australia were strengthened in 1999. Immigration officials worked closely with police and security agencies to update its list of banned individuals.

But Sheikh Hilaly accused the department of granting speakers visas without properly checking their backgrounds.

“The Department of Immigration has given visas to people who have the most extreme or rigid views,” he said. “I regard the problem as emanating from deficiencies in immigration law, I blame the Government for the presence and popularity of these groups.

“The Government sowed the seeds for these extremist views and now it wants to combat them.

“This is an issue I am working on on a daily basis to try and protect young people from these rigid views because unfortunately they have received a lot of wrong information about the religion.”

Terror ban ‘too late’ to stop cash flow
By Natalie O’Brien, Investigations editor
and Catherine Taylor in Beirut

Terrorist groups such as Jemaah Islamiah, the Tamil Tigers and Hezbollah have long considered raising funds in Australia as easy. Although they have now been banned in Australia, experts fear the move has come too late, allowing terror groups, particularly Hezbollah, to become entrenched.

Author Rohan Gunaratna said Hezbollah, the Lebanese group also known as the Party of God, is firmly settled in Australia.

“Hezbollah has been very active in the past,” he said. “I think the Government was right in banning the organisation – but it’s too late. They have made significant inroads and have been fundraising.”

Hezbollah has been raising money with a sophisticated version of a computerised wargame called “Special Force” which has been sold around the world, including Australia.

Set in southern Lebanon, the game depicts a fight between Hezbollah militia fighters and the Israeli army.

It was developed this year and has sold 12,000 copies around the world so far, raising more than $100,000.

The Government banned Hezbollah in June; critics say it was because of US pressure.

Members of the Lebanese community were outraged at the move, blaming the “powerful” Jewish lobby and arguing there were no grounds for the ban.

Hezbollah was founded in the early 1980s in response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. It remains a powerful force with its political wing holding several seats in the Lebanese parliament.

Neil Fergus, head of security company Intelligent Risks, agrees the banning of the terrorist arm of Hezbollah should have occurred sooner. “I have no doubt there is a reasonable trickle of funds going to Hezbollah.”

But it must be remembered Hezbollah was a legitimate political party, he said.

Mr Fergus believes Hezbollah has a large support group in Australia because of its social welfare and political activities who are not necessarily backers of its terrorist activities.

Clive Williams, director of Terrorism Studies at the Australian National University, said he had no doubt funds were being raised in Australia by sympathiser networks. “But how are we going to stop it?”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday July 31, 2003.
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