Sun, Jul 18, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Australian involved in jihad recruitment: cleric


Mamdouh Habib, one of the two Australians held by US authorities at Guantanamo Bay, tried to recruit Sydney Muslims for an Islamic holy war, it was claimed here yesterday.

Islamic cleric Sheikh Mohommad Omran told the Weekend Australian newspaper Habib was a "deeply disturbed man" with psychological problems, who would dress in Japanese-style ninja outfits.

Omran, who heads the Melbourne-based fundamentalist Ahl Sunnah wal Jamaah Association, said Habib had tried to recruit jihad fighters whose names he had written on volunteer lists without their knowledge.

Habib had also fallen out with a hardline prayer group after using the name of the fundamentalist association to solicit A$12,000 (US$8,600) for Muslim rebels in Chechnya.

"He had a confrontation with the brothers when they found out he was putting their names down -- they thought it was a petition for something, then he says `No, this is for who wants to go to jihad' and the brothers got angry," Omran said.

"We told him you don't take things into your own hands without consulting your elders. He got angry and after a while we stopped him coming to the center," he said.

Omran said he told him to return the money.

Egyptian-born Habib, 48, who has a wife and family in Sydney, has been held at Guantanamo Bay since soon after his capture in Pakistan in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks in the US.

The Australian government believes Habib trained with Pakistani extremist group Lashkar-e-Toiba and al-Qaeda before he was arrested on Oct. 5, 2001.

The US has announced he will face trial in a military commission after nearly three years in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he has been a prisoner since soon after his capture in Pakistan.

The other Australian, Muslim convert David Hicks, 28, who was captured fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan in late 2001, is also facing trial on terror charges by a US military tribunal.

Habib's lawyer, Stephen Hopper, denied claims his client was involved in the recruiting or jihad fundraising.

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