First “foreign fighter” arrest in Australia
23 December 2017
More than two years after returning to Australia, a Sydney man was arrested on Tuesday in a blaze of media publicity on “foreign incursion” charges. He allegedly travelled to a Middle Eastern zone that had been proscribed by the federal government.
Belal Betka, 25, is the first person to be charged under “foreign fighter” laws that the Liberal-National government, backed by the opposition Labor Party, imposed in 2014 as part of a further barrage of so-called counter-terrorism legislation.
His arrest highlights the sweeping character of the laws, which give the government powers to ban travel to any part of the world by ministerial decree and extend the already vast array of vague “terrorism-related” offences.
Police allege Betka travelled to Syria’s Raqqa province between March and July 2015, and returned to Australia in October that year. At the time, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop had declared the Raqqa region as a prohibited zone where a “listed terrorist organisation”—ISIS—was engaging in “hostile activity.”
No explanation was provided for the delayed timing of the move against Betka. Police said he had been subject to ongoing investigations since he returned from Syria. Members of the New South Wales Joint Counter Terrorism Team, which includes the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), and state and federal police, were reportedly involved in the operation.
Police said it was part of an “in-depth investigation” into allegations of money laundering and proceeds of crime being used to help fund terrorist organisations. Another man was arrested the same day on “proceeds of crime” charges.
On Wednesday morning, Immigration and Border…