Jihad Jack walks free from jail - Aussie convert who met Osama Bin Laden released because evidence deemed inadmissible
August 21, 2006
Fury after Jihad Jack walks free from jail
Natasha RobinsonAugust 19, 2006
THE families of terror victims have described the decision by an appeals court to release "Jihad" Jack Thomas - the first man jailed under the Howard Government's new terrorism laws - as a farce.
A Melbourne court's decision yesterday to quash the conviction of the Muslim convert - who met Osama bin Laden and other al-Qa'ida operatives just months before the September 11 attacks - was embarrassing for the Government and the Australian Federal Police and distressing for families of terror victims.
Although Mr Thomas could face fresh terror charges arising out of an ABC interview conducted in his Melbourne home during the trial and aired after the conviction, Peter Iliffe, the father of a Bali bombing victim, said the decision to free him showed how "disconnected the judiciary was from reality".
And David Byron, who lost his 15-year-old daughter Chloe in Bali, said there should be "zero tolerance" for those accused of terrorism. "I don't know what's happening in this country. I read that another terrorist was released in Indonesia last week because of a holiday."
But the lawyer for Faheem Lodhi, a Sydney man convicted of preparing a terrorist attack, praised the court's decision as "good old-fashioned" justice.
Victorian Court of Appeal judges Chris Maxwell, Frank Vincent and Peter Buchanan overturned the five-year prison term imposed on Mr Thomas for receiving funds from al-Qa'ida and holding a false passport.
The judgment, which found his interview with federal police inadmissable, was received with gasps in a packed courtroom. Mr Thomas, who trained with fellow Australian David Hicks in an al-Qa'ida camp in Afghanistan before being caught in an al-Qa'ida guesthouse in Pakistan run by September 11 planner Rami bin al-Shiha, bowed his head in the dock and wept.
"Hallelujah, hallelujah," he said outside court, beaming and hugging his daughter.
In launching their retrial bid, the prosecution argued yesterday that the admissions made in the ABC interview were largely the same as those made in Mr Thomas's interview with the AFP in Pakistan in March 2003.
In the Four Corners interview with journalist Sally Neighbour, Mr Thomas said he "agreed to do some work" and wanted to help prevent the "slaughter" of his "Muslim brothers".
He revealed that bin Laden, whom he described as "very polite and humble and shy", wanted a white Australian to "work for him in Australia".
During the AFP interview, Mr Thomas admitted to shaking hands with bin Laden and accepting funds from al-Qa'ida recruiter Khalid bin Attash, although he said he had no intention of carrying out an instruction to act as a sleeper agent in Australia and survey military installations.
Justices Maxwell, Buchanan and Vincent said yesterday Mr Thomas did not have the choice to speak or remain silent when the interview was conducted, and even if he had, the fact he had no access to a lawyer meant it would have been "contrary to public policy" to admit the evidence obtained in the interview. In the interview, Mr Thomas repeatedly insisted "I certainly ain't a big fish" and said he was desperate to return home to his family. In deciding whether to co-operate with police, he said: "I'm no lawyer ... I've got no bloody idea what I should do.
"The only thing I can think of is to pray again and ask if it's, if it's the right thing to do because I have no legal experience, I'm dumb, I'm totally in the wilderness here."
Before the AFP conducted the interview, Mr Thomas had been interrogated for months by Pakistani and US authorities.
A US agent had threatened to put Mr Thomas's testicles in a vice and rape his wife and put her breasts in a vice if the former taxi driver did not agree to cross the border into Afghanistan, wear a recording device and feed intelligence to US authorities, the Victorian Supreme Court heard during Mr Thomas's trial.
Giving the judgment, Justices Maxwell, Buchanan and Vincent said Mr Thomas was "explicitly offered by the Pakistani officials the possibility to return to his family on the one hand, and a very different fate on the other."
Mr Iliffe, whose son Joshua was one of the Coogee Dolphins players killed in the Bali bombing, said last night it was a farce.
"I know it was on technical grounds that Jihad Jack was released, but this undermines the basis, the whole foundation of the judicial system," he said.
"The guy's an absolute bloody lunatic and obviously associated with Muslim terrorists, that was proven on the evidence. And now that is being questioned because of the investigation.
"I'd like to know how one of these judges would feel if they lost one of their own."
Phillip Bolton, who acted for Lodhi and is president of the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association, was not surprised by the decision. "Confessions that are extracted after months and months of confinement and interrogation by the CIA and Pakistani secret service agents is not the way to conduct justice," he said.
The appeal court found the Australian officials in Pakistan were complicit in attempting to overrule Thomas's will, making "no attempt to distance themselves from this position but impliedly endorsing it. It certainly did not require any 'feat of imagination' to appreciate the character of the prospects with which Thomas was faced when contemplating (AFP and Pakistani officials') potential to overbear his will."
Prosecutor Nick Robinson sought an immediate retrial before the judges could acquit the Muslim convert, but Mr Thomas's barrister Mark Taft responded by calling the bid "bloody-minded".
Justice Frank Vincent said "there was a lot of merit" in the sentiment, telling the court the question of whether there was any extra material the judges should consider had clearly been asked during the appeal.
As the verdict was handed down, Mr Thomas leaned across the dock and kissed his lawyer, Rob Stary, on the cheek. Mr Stary said outside court his client had been "subjected to a great trauma", was in a "debilitated condition" and had recently been in psychiatric care. Mr Thomas's family had been his "Rock of Gibraltar", he said. Mr Thomas walked out of the dock into the arms of his wife, Maryati, as his parents, Ian and Patsy, stood by.
As he stood outside his home last night, the sight of the setting sun had him heading indoors. "Got to go and pray, the light's going down," he said.
Additional reporting: Richard Kerbaj, Brad Norington
Neighbour: You've said you were going to fight for the Taliban. Were you going to join al-Qa'ida?
Thomas: I had no idea about al-Qa'ida. I mean, I knew of a man called Osama bin Laden, but I honestly had no idea about al-Qa'ida or had any intentions about working, what they call working, or conducting, you know, any terrorist attacks against a population.
Neighbour: What training did you do?
Thomas: I did what they call tatzizi training, or basic boot camp training.
Neighbour: And what did that involve?
Thomas: It involved light, you know, weapons that are like Kalashnikovs, light firearms and pistols. The topography or the map and compass reading and the signals and signs that you make when you're walking around on patrol to stop and go to the ground and helicopter and different signs. And the demolition course.
Neighbour: What was explosives?
Neighbour: Did you know it was a bin Laden camp?
Thomas: Originally, at the start, no, not until he arrived on the first occasion.
Neighbour: What was your impression of him and of how he was regarded?
Thomas: Very polite and humble and shy. He didn't like too many kisses, you know, he didn't mind being hugged, but kisses he didn't like.
Meeting David Hicks in the training camp:
Thomas: He's a top bloke. He's a really good bloke. He's a real you know, blue-singlet-wearing Aussie. He actually snuck through the trenches out the back, came down across the river, across the valley, up the back, to the back of our tent and came and then just appeared. And he had these chocolates with him, which was like contraband at that time.
Neighbour: Howcome you were in personal contact with the very top al-Qa'ida leaders, people like Zawahari, Saif el Adel, Abu Zubaida?
Thomas: I was in contact with ah, at that time I had no idea who I was dealing with.
Neighbour: So, no idea they were top al-Qa'ida leaders?
Thomas: Absolutely not.
Meeting bin Laden recruiter Abu Zubaida:
Thomas: I asked Abu Zubaida if there was any possibility of somebody that I could possibly do to help because of what I'd heard and been told by personal friends about what had happened in Kabul.
Neighbour: You talked about doing some work. What was meant by that?
Thomas: Well I had no idea, but all I knew was that I saw what I didn't like to see, which was families, innocent people, being killed. No matter what side, you don't like innocent people dying. When I said I wanted to work to help prevent that in any way I could because I felt that my Muslim brothers were being slaughtered.
Thomas spent the next year in Pakistan, where he met veteran al-Qa'ida operative, Khalid bin Attash:
Thomas: Khalid bin Attash had said that there was a need for an Australian to work, or Osama bin Laden would like an Australian white person to work for him in Australia. His drift was that, would you consider going back to Australia, going back to work and travelling from Australia outside regularly. After a period of 6 to 12 months contacting me via email or someone else and then having a meeting outside of Australia written you would, if you considered doing this, find people - you would be told of people in Australia to get in contact with. To do what, he didn't say. In what state, he didn't say.
Neighbour: What did you think Osama wanted this Australian to do?
Thomas: Well I'm sure after his comments that it was definitely to, well, it was definitely involved with terrorism.
Bin Attash mentioned the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, in which more than 200 people were killed, and said Australia needed such an attack. He also asked Thomas to identify military installations in Australia.
Thomas: I definitely in my heart and soul was just dumbfounded and struggled with what benefit that could do. But also this guy is a Muslim and I'm a Muslim and it was, like, a struggle to understand how I got myself here with this kind of - that was just beyond belief.
Neighbour: And was he suggesting that you carry out an attack like this?
Thomas: No, he said that that would be a good thing. And I couldn't believe that - he didn't ask me to do that. I think maybe, well I'm sure he saw my reaction, which was, like, jaw-dropping disbelief and well, I'd walked away.
Neighbour: Did you intend to follow their instructions, to come back to Australia, keep your head down and make contact again?
Thomas: Absolutely not. I had had a gutful long before that. I sat through to just get home.
Neighbour: Why did you take their money if you weren't intending to work for them?
Thomas: Because the money I took was not, wasn't at all for terror work. The money I took was meted out $US1500 for a year's maintenance and $US2000 for waiting so long.
Legal system releases the enemy
WHEN the legal system allows a mate of Osama bin Laden to walk free in Melbourne, something is terribly wrong.
Australians should rightly be outraged at this decision. Allowing Jack Thomas to re-enter civilised society - even temporarily - is ludicrous.
This man has chosen his side in a war. And it's the wrong side. He has aligned himself with Islamic fascists who want to destroy democracy.
The sooner the legal system adjusts to that reality, the sooner we are likely to prevail.
There might be all sorts of nice legal arguments that favour yesterday's decision. But try explaining those to the families of those who died in Bali.
The problem is that there is still a massive disconnection between the law and reality.
Some responsibility must rest with the judges. Why could they not find a reason to protect society from this man?
But the law is most clearly at fault. There is an urgent need for some rapid amendments to ensure that no judge can make the same mistake.
Instead of freeing the enemy, the law should be doing more in the real fight for liberty.