'Jihad Jack' faces 25 years in jail - for helping Al Qaeda in Australia - First person convicted under new counter terrorism law
February 26, 2006
Joseph Thomas is led from the Melbourne Supreme Court following his guilty verdict.
JOSEPH "Jihad Jack" Thomas yesterday became the first person convicted under the Federal Government's new counter-terrorism laws when he was found guilty of receiving money from al-Qaeda.
He faces a maximum 25 years in jail but, crucially, the Supreme Court jury found him not guilty of agreeing to act as a sleeper agent in Australia when it cleared him of two charges of providing resources to a terrorist organisation.
Despite hailing the verdicts as a victory, lawyers for Thomas are believed to be already preparing an appeal because they claim an interview he gave Federal Police was wrongly admitted into evidence.
They claim that the interview should not have been relied on because it followed extensive interrogations with Pakistani and US intelligence agents during which he was bashed, strangled and threatened with castration and electrocution.
When filing the appeal, they are also expected to cite his lack of access to legal advice at the interview.
Thomas, 32, appeared agitated and tearful when he entered court, and tried to insist on his five-year-old daughter being present.
He was impassive when the verdicts were announced.
Outside court, his lawyer Rob Stary said the fact that he was acquitted on the two most serious charges of supporting a terrorist organisation was "a very significant victory".
Thomas' father Ian praised the jury and said the family's faith in their son had been borne out. "As we have always known, Jack had nothing to answer for with these charges," Mr Thomas said.
"We thank the jury and the acquittal has been a great victory. We have always supported our son and family and will continue to do so."
In an interview with The Age before his trial, Thomas said he travelled to Afghanistan because he was curious about the possibility of a pure Islamic state.
"You are not going to understand it, and 95 per cent of the Australian population are not going to understand it. I was going to see for myself whether the ideal Islamic state was being created," he said.
He intended to train, and fight, for the Taliban, but denied agreeing to act for al-Qaeda.
"I am not a dickhead who will help to hurt innocent people, which those people have shown is their tactic," he said. Thomas told The Age he had an Afghanistan visa issued by the Taliban regime disguised as a Pakistani visa because it was a "one-way ticket to Guantanamo Bay" after the fall of the Taliban.
He has been diagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, possibly as a result of his treatment during five months in custody in Pakistan.
"I don't think I will ever be the same person. I came back a scared rabbit. I wake up at night in cold sweats. They broke me," he said.
He was charged with receiving money from al-Qaeda, and providing resources to al-Qaeda to assist in carrying out terrorist acts overseas and in Australia. He was also charged with the relatively minor offence of possessing a falsified passport.
The jury heard Thomas tell police during the recorded interview that Khaled bin Attash, an associate of Osama bin Laden, handed him $US3500 ($A4700) and an airline ticket to fly back to Australia, and he admitted "fiddling" with his passport to disguise the amount of time he had spent in the troubled region.
Thomas, his wife Maryati and daughter Amatullah left for Pakistan in March 2001. He undertook three months weapons and explosives training at an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan where Osama bin Laden was a frequent visitor.
Thomas said he was disillusioned with the Taliban and was preparing to leave before the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US fired the war on terror.
His family were helped back into Pakistan, but he stayed to help defend Muslim land and remained in safe houses frequented by al-Qaeda figures during 2002.
He was apprehended in Karachi in January 2003 and held for five months.
Thomas told federal police that bin Attash, one of the suspected architects of the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, suggested he conduct surveillance on military installations after returning to Australia.
He said he often considered committing to al-Qaeda but did not do so and denied agreeing to act for al-Qaeda.
"I had plenty of opportunities, sir, plenty of opportunities. Osama bin Laden was right there in front of me, three times. Could have come up to him and said 'listen mate, pledge allegiance to
After the verdicts, Lex Lasry, QC, for Thomas, unsuccessfully tried to have him released on bail.
Mr Lasry said that Thomas had served three months in solitary confinement in Barwon Prison's high security Acacia unit, in addition to the five months he was held in Pakistan.
Outside court Mr Lasry refused to add to his earlier comment that Thomas' prosecution was a "trophy trial". He said: "I am obviously pleased about (the not-guilty verdicts on) counts two and three … I know it's not like me, but I have nothing more to say."
Federal Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock said Thomas' conviction on the terrorism-related charge and the passport offence "demonstrate the seriousness with which these issues are dealt with buy the law and highlight the consequences of becoming involved in these activities".
Thomas will be back in court on Thursday for a plea hearing before Justice Philip Cummins.