MELBOURNE — One man was arrested in counterterrorism raids in the Australian city of Melbourne on Tuesday after police said he provided money to a U.S. citizen fighting alongside extremists in Syria.
Hassan el Sabsabi, 23, appeared briefly in a Melbourne court on six counts of intentionally making funds available to a terrorist organization. According to court documents, the groups involved were ISIL, also known as Islamic State, and Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front. El Sabsabi did not enter a plea or apply for bail.
El Sabsabi’s arrest comes a week after Melbourne police fatally shot a terror suspect who had stabbed two officers. Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan said Tuesday’s arrest was not connected to that incident.
Police say the raids came after an eight-month investigation that began with a tip from the FBI. El Sabsabi is accused of giving about US$12,000 to a U.S. citizen to fund his travel to Syria, Gaughan said. The two men are not related and know each other primarily through social media, he said.
Gaughan declined to release details about the American in Syria, except to say he’d been fighting there for “a number of months.”
El Sabsabi was not involved in planning an attack, and there was no specific threat to the public, Gaughan said. Police believe he was operating alone and was about to provide additional funds.
State and federal police officers raided seven properties in Melbourne and collected a large amount of electronic data, Gaughan said.
“This is a terrorism financing case — we didn’t assess there being a significant community safety risk, or a significant risk to our officers,” Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton said.
Prosecutor Andrew Doyle said the evidence against el Sabsabi includes 25,000 pages of material from social media accounts and 500 telephone calls and messages.
El Sabsabi’s lawyer Trieu Huynh told the court that his client had never been in custody before. He asked that a doctor examine El Sabsabi as soon as possible for a medical condition, which Huynh declined to detail in court.
El Sabsabi said nothing and was ordered to reappear in February. If convicted, he could face up to life in prison.
Earlier this month, Australia raised its terror warning to the second-highest level, citing the domestic threat posed by supporters of the Islamic State militant group.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Parliament security agencies know of 100 people within Australia who are supporting terrorist groups overseas through recruitment or funding. He said AU$630 million (US$550 million) in new spending on intelligence, law enforcement and border protection agencies over the next four years would include AU$20 million for the anti-money laundering agency AUSTRAC to help prevent terrorism funding.
“Anyone who supports terrorists is complicit in the dreadful deeds they do,” Abbott said.
Last week, terror suspect Numan Haider, 18, was killed after he stabbed two police officers during a routine meeting outside a Melbourne police station. Both officers are recovering.