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Australian Convicted of Recruiting 7 Men to Fight in Syria

  • Associated Press

FILE - Rebels from al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front, wave their brigade flag. Hamdi Alqudsi, 42, had pleaded not guilty in the New South Wales state Supreme Court in Sydney to seven counts of recruiting men from June until October in 2013 to travel from Australia to Syria to fight with Jabhat al-Nusra and other al-Qaida affiliates.

FILE - Rebels from al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front, wave their brigade flag. Hamdi Alqudsi, 42, had pleaded not guilty in the New South Wales state Supreme Court in Sydney to seven counts of recruiting men from June until October in 2013 to travel from Australia to Syria to fight with Jabhat al-Nusra and other al-Qaida affiliates.

The first person charged in Australia with recruiting and sending fighters to Syria was convicted Tuesday of recruiting seven foreign fighters.

Hamdi Alqudsi, 42, had pleaded not guilty in the New South Wales state Supreme Court in Sydney to seven counts of recruiting men from June until October in 2013 to travel from Australia to Syria to fight with Jabhat al-Nusra and other al-Qaida affiliates.

A jury on Tuesday found him guilty of six counts, and then continued deliberations before convicting him on the charge relating to the seventh man.

Each offense carries a potential maximum of 10 years in prison. The same offense committed since legislation was amended in 2014 carries a maximum sentence of 25 years. Alqudsi will be sentenced next month.

At least two of the recruits died in Syria.

Alqudsi, a Sydney-based disability pensioner with two wives recognized under Islamic law, had booked flights to Turkey and organized the recruits' itineraries. He had also advised the recruits how to avoid drawing attention to themselves as they left Australia.

The prosecution relied on a large cache of intercepted phone calls in Arabic and English, including some with Mohammad Ali Baryalei, who would become known as Australia's highest-ranking member of the Islamic State group before he died in Syria in 2014.

When they spoke, Baryalei was fighting for Jabhat al-Nusra, but discussed switching his allegiance to the Islamic State.

Alqudsi's lawyer Scott Corish had told the court his client could have thought the men were going to Syria for humanitarian reasons. But prosecutor David Staehli said the jury could not possibly find that the calls between Alqudsi and Baryalei were about humanitarian work.

After the verdicts, another of Alqudsi's lawyers, Zali Burrows, told reporters, “He accepts the verdicts but he'll always maintain his innocence.”

Security officials recently estimated that 110 Australians are fighting for the Islamic State group in the Middle East.

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