April 15, 2010
AN AL-QAEDA recruiter, described as the No. 1 terrorist threat to America, was engaged by a Sydney youth group to address hundreds of young people – a decision that has caused deep divisions at one of Australia’s largest mosques.
At the same time as Anwar al-Awlaki was advising the extremist later charged with killing 13 people at Fort Hood in Texas, he was in talks with a group, Sydney Muslim Youth, about delivering a sermon to young Australians. He was already well known to security agencies as the spiritual guide to three of the hijackers on September 11, 2001.
”Anwar al-Awlaki is like a virus produced by the body wanting to fight a microbe,” said Taj el-Din al-Hilaly, condemning the sermon, which was delivered at his mosque by phone link from Yemen.
According to US authorities, about the time of the sermon Mr Awlaki was transforming himself from radical cleric to trainer and recruiter for al-Qaeda.
Last week, Mr Awlaki became the first US citizen added to the CIA kill list. He is considered a military enemy of the US and faces assassination by special forces.
“The danger Awlaki poses to this country is no longer confined to words,” a US official told The New York Times. “He’s gotten involved in plots.”
The chairwoman of the US house subcommittee on homeland security, Jane Harman, called Mr Awlaki “terrorist No. 1 in terms of threat against us”.
The bomber who tried to blow up a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day last year reportedly described Mr Awlaki as his trainer and recruiter.
The Herald attended the sermon at the Lakemba mosque in February last year but was ejected by organisers. Yesterday, no one involved with the mosque would take responsibility for securing Mr Awlaki as a speaker.
According to a director of the mosque, Ziad Ghamraoui, Shady Alsuleiman was in charge of organising evening youth events at the time of the sermon. Sheikh Shady refused to comment. He would not say whether Mr Awlaki was paid and would not comment on the subject of his speech.
Since Mr Awlaki’s lecture, all speakers must now be approved by the mosque. Mr Ghamraoui said: ”We need to make sure that it’s only moderate scholars that are coming.”
The senior imam at the mosque, Sheikh Hilaly, condemned provocative clerics who radicalised young people. ”They are like fast food who give no substance and no spiritual nutrition,” he said.
”Our young people these days like loud voices. They seem to like Rambo and Schwarzenegger and the imam who raises his voice and appears tough.” IslamicMedia.com.au, an initiative of the Shady-affiliated United Muslims of Australia, streamed but did not record the speech and has 15 other audio sermons from the imam.
On other websites, not hosted in Australia, Mr Awlaki supports jihad with phrases such as: ”The messenger of Allah said … whoever kills a non-believer can meet him”.
The NSW counter-terrorism squad, which has previously described Mr Awlaki as ”of great concern to us”, was unavailable for comment.