"Jihad" Jack Thomas acquitted of terrorism conviction

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Victorian Supreme Court, Melbourne

Melbourne man Jack Thomas has been acquitted of terrorism offences in Victoria's Court of Appeal. His convictions for receiving funds from a terror group and using a false passport were quashed on Friday. Mr Thomas was earlier sentenced to five years in jail.

Jack Thomas, 33, known as "Jihad Jack" was convicted under new Australian anti-terror laws. He was found guilty in February of accepting cash and a plane ticket from an al-Qaeda agent in Pakistan. But was cleared of 'intentionally providing resources for al-Qaeda'. The former taxi driver was sentenced to five years in prison in March.

The Court of Appeal ruled Thomas's interview with Australian Federal Police (AFP) in Pakistan was inadmissible. Thomas appealed his conviction on the grounds that interviews conducted in Pakistan after his arrest in 2003 breached Australian law and should not have been allowed as evidence at his trial.

He was interviewed without access to a lawyer, having already been interrogated during two months in custody in Pakistan. Mr Thomas' lawyers argued that he was earlier threatened with torture from foreign security agencies.

His lawyer said Mr Thomas, who is married and has three children, accepted the money and plane ticket because he wanted to return home. Mr Thomas said he never had any intention of becoming an al-Qaeda operative.

Lawyer Rob Stary said Thomas wanted to thank his legal team and staff at a hospital he had spent the past several months in psychiatric care. "He's in a debilitated condition as a result of what's transpired," Mr Stary said.

Liberty Victoria president Brian Walters, SC, welcomed the decision, saying: "We believe that the Court of Appeal has righted a great injustice."

Prosecutor Nick Robinson is calling for a retrial based on a television interview with the ABC. The defence counsel has labelled the submission "bloody-minded." Rob Stary said the defence team would counter with arguments that prosecutors withheld a statement from a prisoner now held overseas. "The AFP has withheld important information that would have contradicted other evidence," he said.

More "terrorism" claims

Thomas' brother, Les, who took part in a protest rally outside Barwon Prison this weekend in support of 13 detainees facing charges of "terrorism", said the 13 Melbourne men faced a similar predicament to his brother.

Les Thomas said the 13 were victims of a government "scare campaign" and "media demonisation" and were being held in solitary confinement in Barwon's high security Acacia Unit, despite not being convicted of any crime. He said the men faced greater "persecution" than he claimed his brother had faced because most were of Middle Eastern background. "These people have not been convicted of any crime, but they're already being punished in extremely punitive circumstances," said Les Thomas.

Ten of the 13 were arrested in pre-dawn police raids in Melbourne and Sydney last November, and another three were arrested in March this year.

Jack Thomas was the first person to be convicted under the controversial new Australian anti-terror legislation.