Colleague argued against violence

A MUSLIM community leader told the Supreme Court yesterday that he warned alleged terrorist leader Abdul Nacer Benbrika against violence after hearing a group “intended to blow up a place or something”.
“I said if he intends to kill anyone in this country, he will imprison our Muslim sisters, and he would be killing innocent people, and it would be devastating for the Muslim community and for the non-Muslim community,” Samir Mohtadi said.
He said Benbrika’s response was: “What you have been told is nothing but a lie.”
Mr Mohtadi said he had heard the rumours at the Preston mosque three years ago and sought first to check the truth with Benbrika, whom he had known for years but from whom he had distanced himself due to Benbrika’s “harshness”.
Mr Mohtadi said he met Benbrika in a park near Benbrika’s home. He said Benbrika’s first remark to him was: “Have you become a spy?”
Mr Mohtadi said he replied: “If you intend to do anything silly, I will become a spy, and as far as I’m concerned it’s an act of worship.”
He said he told Benbrika that he should be telling his followers to be law-abiding citizens and that they discussed religious freedom in Australia.
“You won’t have a better opportunity anywhere in the world, even Saudi Arabia,” he recalled telling Benbrika.
Mr Mohtadi said Benbrika insisted to him that Australia was “a land of war”, which Mr Mohtadi defined as “a place or a country that has declared war against Muslims in another country”.
Mr Mohtadi is the director of the Islamic Information and Services Network of Australasia in Coburg.
He said he founded the network when he broke away from another Muslim body that he felt was dominated by men preoccupied with overseas issues rather than the issues facing young Muslims in Australia.
He was giving evidence at the trial of 12 Melbourne Muslims, including Benbrika, who are charged with being part of a terrorist organisation that was pursuing violent jihad. All the men have pleaded not guilty.
Under cross-examination by defence counsel, Mr Mohtadi agreed that other members of the Muslim community in Melbourne downloaded some of the alleged jihadi material found with some accused, including videos of beheadings: “I have seen them myself,” he said.
He agreed that he believed the Government of Israel to be a terrorist organisation, and that many Muslims regarded Osama bin Laden as a good man because he had sacrificed his wealth to fight for Muslims.
He told the court that, at the time of ASIO raids on the accused in 2005, local Muslims feared they were being singled out by police and that Melbourne mosques handed out pamphlets detailing the powers of police and ASIO.
The trial continues.

First published in The Age.