QLD bookseller jailed for funding an Islamic state
UPDATE: ONE of Queensland's most senior justices has told Omar Succarieh that his actions had harmed the Muslim community as she sentenced him to four-and-a-half years in jail.
Justice Roslyn Atkinson said Succarieh's decision to send money to his brother Abraham in Syria to help overthrow the Asaad regime and work towards establishing in Islamic state threatened social cohesion in Australia, where he was born to Lebanese parents.
"The Muslim community is harmed by your offences because of the fear of them that it might engender in people thinking that you represent the Muslim community which you most certainly don't," she said.
"It does harm to the Australian community as a whole.
"It damages the social cohesion of our community, which is a tolerant, multicultural community."
Succarieh pleaded guilty to two counts of preparing for incursions into a foreign state and two counts of giving money for incursions into a foreign state.
The pleas came after charges he funded a terrorist organisation were dropped.
Brisbane Supreme Court heard over the two-day sentencing hearing how Succarieh sent US$43,700 to Australian Muslim men, including his brother, fighting in Syria and arranged for the safe passage of another man to Syria to bolster manpower for his brother's team.
But Australian authorities, monitoring Succarieh's communications, cancelled the man's passport and he was unable to leave Australia when he arrived at the airport for his flight.
Justice Atkinson said each of the offences was committed in the context of the Syrian war and Succarieh's desire to oust the Assad regime and establish an Islamic state that would operate under Sharia Law rather than a democracy.
He said Succarieh's religious views were fundamentalist, supporting the aims and objectives of Jabhat Al-Nusra - one of many opposition groups seeking to overthrow the Syrian government.
"You regarded it as your religious duty to support oppressed Muslims worldwide and you embraced the idea of engaging in offensive jihad through armed struggle and fighting where necessary," she said.
"Your conduct .... was protracted and planned. Over a lengthy period you co-ordinated and organised the assistance provided to your brother and fellow Australians and provided moral and religious support.
"You took steps to hide the movement of money out of this country and the true purpose for your actions."
Justice Atkinson accepted the motivation also in part came from knowing his brother was in need of money while living in Syria.
She said there was no suggested Succarieh ever supported or encouraged terrorist activity in Australia.
Justice Atkinson said there had been few prosecutions, fortunately, under the Crimes (Foreign Incursions and Recruitment) Act.
The court heard the legislation was originally created to prevent mercenary types from engaging in armed hostilities overseas or helping foreign activities in Australia through financial or other means.
But Justice Atkinson said the legislation had evolved to an anti-terrorist policy to deter people from heading overseas to support foreign conflicts, or supporting them from afar in Australia.
Succarieh will be eligible to apply for parole in September 2014, once he has served three years behind bars.
He has already served 784 in custody since his arrest.
Justice Atkinson said she took into account that Succcarieh had spent 90 days in solitary confinement when he was first arrested in 2014.
She said his community would be well served by him adopting an approach to work towards the good of people and through charitable activity.
Succarieh gave a thumbs up to his supporters in the public gallery of the courtroom as corrective services officers led him away. APN NEWSDESK
EARLIER: DESPITE terrorism-related charges being dropped as part of a plea deal, a Queensland man who funded foreign fighters in Syria, and arranged to boost their manpower, fears the terror label will stick.
Omar Succarieh, 33, says his reputation is ruined and fears it will be difficult to re-integrate into the Logan community after more than two years in custody accused of making funds available to a terrorist organisation.
He supplied more than US$40,000 to his brother Abraham in Syria to help him and three other Australian Muslim men fight to overthrow the Syrian government and establish an Islamic State.
Succarieh also arranged for an Australian man to join his brother in that fight, all from his home in Brisbane's south.
He will be sentenced on Wednesday morning on two counts of preparing for incursions into a foreign state and two counts of giving money for incursions into a foreign state.
In a letter tendered during his sentencing hearing in Brisbane Supreme Court on Tuesday, Succarieh described his decisions as careless and reckless.
He promised to change and follow the religion of the broader Muslim community in Australia instead of looking to the internet.
"Leading up to the events that took place, I was emotionally drawn to the conflict in Syria and felt a sense of connection to the Syrian people which compelled me to want to assist them," he said.
"Seeing the images of innocent men, women and children that are not dying by the bomb itself but dying from being buried alive by the concrete buildings that were just hit by air strikes, the absolute destruction and the complete lack of care and compassion for human life by the Syrian Government and many other world powers played a part in influencing my state of mind.
"Around that time I felt that most of the world was deeply interested in this conflict.
"Even seeing the Australian government took the initiative by being the first country to suspend the Syrian ambassador, which I did find somewhat inspirational, made me feel that what was happening to the Syrian people was appalling, and on all levels of society, unacceptable.
"Being a young Muslim man, I have felt targeted by the authorities at times in my life.
"When the AFP (Australian Federal Police) and media started raising questions about my brother Ahmed, and whether he was a suicide bomber, I felt a strong sense of paranoia and distrust towards the authorities.
"I felt a duty to protect my family not only from the authorities but also from the media and the public spotlight.
"There were also questions about my brother Abraham.
"I knew that Abraham was in Syria but I maintained that he was in Turkey.
"I thought that if the authorities knew that he was in Syria that would only increase the spotlight on the issues with Ahmed.
"At no stage did my family and I ever want to be in the public arena and at no stage did I ever intend for it to arrive at this point.
"I am completely remorseful and hope to be able to make amends to all those that might have been affected by this, especially my family.
"This has completely tarnished my name and my family's name and that has also made whatever punishment I have already received even worse.
"I will forever be known as the accused terrorist who owned the bookstore. A punishment within a punishment.
"The decisions that I made, I believed at the time were an obligation for me to assist my brother in a time where his situation I understood to be nearing critical.
"I believed, based on what Abraham said to me, that if I didn't send him money then that could have been the difference between life and death.
"Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) said: 'He is not a perfect Muslim who eats his fill while his neighbour goes hungry'.
"With hindsight, now I fully understand how my support for some of the actions was against the law.
"I believe the support I saw generally to the opposition to the Assad regime lessened my concerns about whether I was breaking the law.
"I now understand that it is against the law, and I can also see now why it is against the law.
"I believe because of my paranoia, distrust, ignorant mindset and a few other circumstances, it led me to be secretive towards people knowing that my brother was in Syria.
"I now understand that if I was more transparent and communicated better with the authorities, i could have better understood the circumstances surrounding these events and what my legal obligations were.
"From now on, I promise that I will strive to always act according to Australian laws and integrate back into society as a law-abiding citizen.
"I will never attempt to send money to my brother or anyone else unless I have a lawful means of doing so.
"I do accept I may never have a lawful means of providing my brother money in the future.
"This experience has allowed me to completely understand the sort of information the authorities have and for me not to be so defensive towards them but rather be more embracing.
"My biggest concern at the time was them finding out that my brother was in Syria but now I know that it is all in the air and that is something we can openly talk about, I feel a sense of relief and can be more transparent and more cooperative with authorities.
"I no longer look at them with suspicion but rather people that are just doing their jobs.
"I realise how naive I was. I absolutely regret how I prioritised things.
"I feel like rather than being an asset to my family, I have now become a burden on them.
"I feel pathetic and that I have let everyone down.
"I sometimes feel I cannot even look my wife in the face.
"I ask myself, what is the point of wanting to help others when my actions have just now made me in need of help myself?
"Although I have always maintained a strong relationship with the broader Muslim community, I did decide to take the initiative on my own accord and start an Islamic book store with an Islamic Centre attached to it.
"Once my passport was cancelled, and while I was trying to arrange a Lebanese passport by lawful means, I decided that this would be worthwhile contribution.
"I saw it like building a well, where people could draw upon it for years to come.
"My intentions were not to operate it for too long but rather just to establish it in the community then entrust a more qualified organisation or individual to then operate it as their own business.
"Although I am a devout Muslim and do plan on learning more about my faith, the prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: "Religion is very easy and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way.
So you should not be extremists, but try to be near to perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded; and gain strength by offering the prayers in the mornings, afternoons and during the last hours of the nights."
"So because I follow this way of Islam, my religious journey has been over many years and I never implement something in my life unless I know I can continue doing it for the rest of my life.
"Although I was studying religion, I did not and do not believe that I am qualified to be in a position of authority in the religious industry and have no desire to be in one.
"With this in mind, I wish to assure the court that I have no intentions of reopening another Islamic Centre or any other Islamic institution.
"I have no intentions on giving public lectures regarding religion and I intend on gaining my Islamic knowledge through established Islamic mosques that have an existing relationship with the broader community.
"Although I do love talking about Islam and religion in general, I am not forceful upon others and to what their beliefs are.
"Allah tells us in the Qur'an ... 'there is no compulsion in religion. Verily the right path has become distinct from the wrong path. Whoever disbelievers in false deities and believes in Allah, then he has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that will never break. And Allah is the All-Hearer, All-Knower'.
"My time in custody has been an absolutely life-changing experience and now after more than two years of being incarcerated, I know with indisputable conviction that this is somewhere I never again want to come back to.
"I am a 33-year-old man who has been married for 10 years with three children.
"I am someone who has made a mistake and has suffered the consequences and paid dearly for it.
"I know that with a second chance I could prove to myself, my family and to the broader community that we should not be all labelled by the same paintbrush and that I could be an ideal example of a reformed member in society.
"Everyone deserves a second chance." - ARM NEWSDESK