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Posted: 11/30/2002 9:58:47 PM EDT
Secret Islamic terror cell in WA By Tony Barrass THEY were an exclusive pocket of Perth Muslims, secret disciples of radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, and they were convinced that a true Islamic superstate would one day emerge from the volatile political landscape of South-East Asia. The WA cell of Jemaah Islamiyah boasted the most dedicated religious acolytes in the country. The West Australian understands that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation has been told: That JI members throughout Australia had hatched a plan to flee to Indonesia, Yemen or Libya if they were in danger of being caught or exposed as JI operatives. Curtin University students were identified as prime recruits because many of them were "young, pliable thinkers". The internet was used by JI world wide as an aggressive tool to lure young, impressionable and homesick Muslims into the fold. JI carried out numerous training exercises at properties in WA's South-West and the Blue Mountains near Sydney, despite denials by landowners and under the noses of local authorities. The WA cell splintered after English-born convert Jack Roche, now under arrest, returned from Afghanistan and refused to share with Abdul Rahim Ayub, the alleged Australian leader of JI and a religious teacher at Bentley's al-Hidayah Islamic School, money given to him to fund the Australian cause. A clearer picture is now emerging about the modus operandi of JI in Australia, how it was funded and how it survived for as long as it did. It seems that while much of the initial focus post-September 11 was on Sydney because of the sheer number of Muslims scattered throughout Australia's biggest city in suburbs such as Lakemba, it seems the nucleus of JI was Perth-based. It has now been established that JI spiritual leaders Abu Bakar Bashir and Abdullah Sungkar used forged Malaysian passports to visit Australia and preach their fiery brand of Islam in numerous mosques in Sydney and Melbourne throughout the late 1990s. Mr Sungkar is now dead, thanks to a weak heart, but Mr Bashir - under arrest in Indonesia for numerous bombings throughout South-East Asia and most recently linked to the Bali atrocity which killed 87 Australians and 100 others - has become to Islamic extremists a regional equivalent of Osama bin Laden. Five Bashir followers were in Perth and had formed a secretive circle to actively recruit and preach their leader's message - Jack Roche, now facing charges of conspiring to blow up Israeli targets in Sydney and Canberra; David Suparta, a Chinese Indonesian convert who told the Refugee Review Tribunal in 1999 that he had been the Australian leader of an affiliated Islamic group, the NII; Jan Herbert, also known as Taufik Abdat, self-confessed member of JI and a Bashir acolyte; and twins Abdul Rahim Ayub, a teacher, and Abdur Rahman Ayub, who reportedly fought against the brutal but failed Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s. The twins and Mr Suparta and Mr Herbert all lived in Sydney before moving across the Nullarbor throughout the mid to late 1990s after securing permanent Australian residency. Mr Roche moved here two years ago. While admitting they attended Mr Bashir's Sydney lectures, they all deny being part of any terrorist network. Mr Roche has reportedly told ASIO that on numerous occasions a group of WA Muslims travelled to a property at Myalup, 150km south of Perth, which was owned by a man called John Bennett, who took the name John Musa after converting to Islam more than two decades ago. There they underwent paramilitary training. Mr Bennett denies this but information given to The West Australian from a separate source corroborates Mr Roche's claims. The source claimed that between six and 20 men regularly shot at each other with more than 20 paint-ball guns bought by the group and taken to the property in a trailer. Authorities have been told that the group slept under the stars and were often woken in the middle of the night by men with torches before being taken on long marches. Those who could not keep up or disobeyed any directive were tied to a tree where they were often left for hours. ASIO has been told that similar training camps were also run on properties in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. JI was active in recruiting. Abdul Rahim Ayub, the teacher and board member of the al-Hidayah Islamic School in Bentley, spoke regularly to Curtin University students, usually after evening prayers. Religious instruction was also part of the plan, according to the insider. Weekly meetings took place at different households around suburban Perth where prayer and food was served. Contentious excerpts of the Koran were twisted to suit the argument which often ended up gently anti-Western, but not blatantly so. Not enough to put mainstream Muslims off their halal food. The internet also was used to swing the young around to radical thinking. Chat rooms were monitored by JI and because most messages were written in Bahasa Indonesia, Australian authorities were considered by the group to be oblivious to their meaning, if not their existence. Things changed dramatically for the group post-September 11. ASIO has been told that while the group knew "something was about to happen", they had no idea that al-Qaida had planned the devastating attack on the World Trade Center twin towers. Paranoia set in and the group took extra precautions, such as meeting in parks and open spaces for fear of being taped. But it did not stop group members travelling extensively between Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Pakistan and, in Mr Roche's case, Afghanistan. They even worked out an escape plan, according to the source, to flee to three countries where they could "disappear" - Indonesia, Libya and Yemen, the ancestral home of bin Laden - if things turned nasty or their lives were threatened. Abdul Rahim is now believed to be somewhere in Indonesia after leaving the country before his Thornlie home was raided by ASIO on October 30. But the Perth group splintered when Mr Roche, having returned from Afghanistan where he saw the elusive bin Laden, brought back a wad of US currency, believed to be about $6000, to bolster the Australian cell. Sources say he refused to hand it over to Abdul Rahim who wanted his cut and instead whittled it away. The pair fell out and did not speak for more than 18 months, reconciling only months before Mr Roche was arrested.
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