Australian charged over travel to IS territory freed on bail

Jan 5, 2023, 9:38 AM | Updated: 11:48 pm

Deputy leader of the opposition Sussan Ley gestures during question time at Parliament House in Can...

Deputy leader of the opposition Sussan Ley gestures during question time at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, Dec. 1, 2022. Ley is critical of an Australian judge on Friday, Jan. 6, 2023, allowed a woman to be released on bail who faces charges of entering a part of Syria that at the time was under Islamic State control. (Mick Tsikas/AAP Image via AP)

(Mick Tsikas/AAP Image via AP)

SYDNEY (AP) — An Australian woman charged with willingly entering part of Syria that was under control of the Islamic State group was freed on bail Friday as a debate raged about the risk to the community.

Mariam Raad, 31, is one of several Australians whose husbands were killed or jailed after they joined the Islamic State group. Australia repatriated four such women and 13 children from a Syrian refugee camp in October.

Raad has been living in the town of Young, in New South Wales state, and was first arrested Thursday. Federal and state police executed warrants at her home and the home of a relative in Sydney.

Raad was charged with entering, or remaining in, a part of Syria that was under the control of terrorists, a breach of federal law. If found guilty, she faces up to 10 years in prison.

Her bail conditions included a requirement to surrender her passport and a ban from her contacting anyone in prison or anyone associated with a terrorist group. She is also banned from acquiring a gun.

Her lawyer, Moustafa Khier of Birchgrove Legal, told the Guardian newspaper that the court heard of the “wealth of evidence” that Raad had been working hard to reintegrate herself and her family.

“Mariam has always said that she would comply with any government orders,” Moustafa Khier told the Guardian, adding that law enforcement agencies had categorized her as low risk in deciding to repatriate her.

Federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers said the returned women posed no threat to the community but authorities would continue to monitor them.

“There’s obviously a process to go through now,” Chalmers told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

But deputy opposition leader Sussan Ley said that a problem that was once confined to parts of Sydney had spread out across Australia.

“We don’t know where these people have been resettled. We don’t know which communities have been put at risk. We don’t know where they are moving in and out of,” Ley said.

And David Elliott, the state’s former police minister, said he had received “completely opposite” advice on Raad than the government, with authorities telling him that she was a security threat.

“Somehow, magically, when Anthony Albanese became prime minister, these ISIS brides stopped being a security threat,” Elliott said.

Prosecutors claim Raad traveled to Syria in early 2014 to join her husband, Muhammad Zahab, who left Australia a year earlier to join the Islamic State group to fight. Prosecutors say Raad was aware of her husband’s activities and willingly traveled to the conflict region.

Zahab, a former Sydney math teacher, rose through the ranks of the terrorist group and is believed to have died in Syria in 2018.

Until October, Raad had been living in the Al Roj camp in northern Syria, which has been under Kurdish control since the defeat of Islamic State.

The investigation into Raad began when she was in Syria and continued after she returned.

The federal police commander tasked with monitoring terror risks said the joint counter-terrorism team would continue to investigate Australians returning from conflict areas.

“Individuals will be brought before the courts when evidence supports allegations that returned individuals have committed offences in conflict areas,” said Sandra Booth, the acting assistant commissioner of the Australian Federal Police.

Raad is next due in court on March 15.

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Australian charged over travel to IS territory freed on bail