Up to 100 Australians are thought to be fighting in Syria at the moment and authorities fear young Australian Muslims are being radicalised on home soil as a program in a Western Sydney bookstore suggests.The spectre of home-grown terror has haunted security agencies in countries like Australia since 2001.
...Authorities' concerns are being heightened by the bloody conflict in Syria. It's become a magnet and a new training ground for militants around the world, including in Australia.
To date, four Australians have died fighting in Syria against the Assad regime and a hundred Australians are currently believed to be on the frontline, even though it's illegal under Australian law.
...Caro Meldrum-Hanna's been investigating...
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA, REPORTER: ...this [video] ...Yusuf Toprakkaya, a Melbourne bricklayer and a father...was killed in Syria last year. In this tribute video posted online after his death in December, 2012, he's shown making detonators for bombs and on night patrol with rebels in Syria, proof that he was involved in fighting at the frontline, a criminal act under Australian law.
...Yusuf Toprakkaya was well known to Australian authorities. He was named in this secret 2010 cable from the US Embassy in Canberra, requesting 23 Australians be added to the terrorist screening database.
...AARON ZELIN, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: ...four Australians ...have ended up with martyrdom notices on jihadi forums. And there have been many foreigners who have died in Syria, but not all of the individuals who are foreigners who die in Syria end up with having martyrdom notices on jihadi forums. Therefore I think ...they ... joined up with some rebel forces.
...CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: When news of Majzoub's death hit Sydney, hundreds of young Muslim men flocked to the Al Risalah Bookstore in Bankstown, Western Sydney to pay him tribute.
PREACHER [in Sydney]: But I warn the youth today... will we waste the blood of the martyrs?
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Since it opened just over one year ago, Al Risalah Bookstore has gained a reputation as a centre of Islamic extremism. Sheikh Majzoub gave his final lecture here.
...CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: What do you know of the Al Risalah Bookstore in Bankstown?
JAMAL DAOUD, SOCIAL JUSTICE NETWORK: Al Risalah Bookstore especially is very secret, very secretive. They conduct their business in a very secretive way.
...I tried, I tried to explore who's behind this group. We can't. It is very secretive. This is very worrying for us in a democracy to have some secretive organisation. They conduct all their businesses in very secretive way....
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: 7.30 has been investigating al Risalah's activities and the speeches made by a number of sheiks, urging Australians to get involved in Syria.
This is Sheikh Abu Sulayman, picture here delivering a lecture at the Al Risalah Bookstore last year, encouraging his audience of young Muslim men to join the jihad in Syria.
ABU SULAYMAN, MUSLIM SHEIKH: We're calling day and night for us to support them with our wealth and with our blood and with whatever we possess.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: This is Sheikh Omar El Banna who also gave a lecture at Al Risalah last year. He made this speech, titled Syria is my Responsibility, in western Sydney.
OMAR EL-BANNA, SHEIKH: I want to pass on two points. That you are responsible for what's happening there. ... What should we be do? When one organ is in pain, the remaining parts of the body, they show care. ... In Syria now, the problem, Allah will ask you, "What did you do?"
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: This is Musa Cerantonio. ....Once an Italian Christian, now a passionate convert to Islam, teaching at Al Risalah. Here Musa Cerantonio promotes the Al-Qaeda-backed jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria.
MUSA CERANTONIO: Allah willing, as one of the leaders Jabhat al-Nusra said: "If we take this (Damascus) - and I don't want to give false hope - but if we take this, Allah willing, victory is near."
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Al Risalah has another even more infamous sheikh. Abu Suhaib, known to the authorities as Bilal Khazal, a former baggage handler for Qantas, trained at a military camp in Afghanistan and a confidante of Osama Bin Laden. Khazal was lecturing at Al Risalah until mid-2012 when he was convicted and sentenced to nine years' jail for producing a do-it-yourself terrorism book. Al Risalah posted this video of Khazal online titled "Final advice before his imprisonment":
ABU SUHAIB, MUSLIM SHEIKH: We ask God Almighty for victory and that the Islamic state rises up.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Do you believe that these bookstores are radicalising young men?
JAMAL DAOUD: Definitely. If you go inside and read what DVDs and books they're distributing, it's all about radical Islam.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: The possibility that extremist sheikhs are radicalising youth at home before they go to Syria has Australian authorities on high alert.
Are you aware of the sheikhs behind Al Risalah and what they're teaching, preaching?
NICK KALDAS, NSW DEPUTY POLICE COMMISSIONER: Um, I am aware of Al Risalah and I'm aware of some of the activities that go on and some of the individuals involved, yes
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Would it concern you if these sheikhs and teachers at Al Risalah were promoting violent jihad?
NICK KALDAS: All of that has to be of concern, certainly. But I would also say that our federal authorities are very much involved in some of the issues you've just raised, certainly in term of fundraising and people going - leaving Australia and going to fight overseas. The federal authorities have to be involved and have privacy in a lotta those issues.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: If there's evidence of that though, of this radicalisation ...
NICK KALDAS: It is of concern. It's definitely of concern....