Muslim cleric Abdul Nacer Benbrika.
A terrorism expert has backed a court decision to release convicted terrorist Abdul Nacer Benbrika. Image by HANDOUT/NETWORK SEVEN
  • politics

‘Reasonable’ for freed terrorist to have strict orders

Dominic Giannini December 20, 2023

A court made the right decision to release convicted terrorist Abdul Nacer Benbrika with 30 strict conditions, a terrorism expert says. 

The conditions of his release on Tuesday included a curfew, an ankle monitoring bracelet and police oversight of his communications. 

Given the evidence presented to the court about the Muslim cleric participating in deradicalisation programs and posing a lower risk to the community, an order to keep him locked up beyond his sentence was “almost certain to have been denied”, terrorism and Islamic studies expert Greg Barton said. 

“It seems reasonable, it’s extremely rare to get a continuing detention order in the first place,” he told ABC radio on Wednesday.

A continuing detention order can be applied in exceptional circumstances to keep a convicted terrorist behind bars after their sentence has expired if they’re deemed too high a risk to release into the community.

Abdul Nacer Benbrika leaving Barwon prison in Lara, Victoria.
 Abdul Nacer Benbrika leaving Barwon prison in Lara, Victoria. Image by HANDOUT/NINE NEWS 

Benbrika’s initial three-year maximum detention order was set to expire on Saturday.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had one extended beyond the first three years, so that is our system and I think on balance it works well,” Professor Barton said. 

However, the opposition still wanted the attorney-general to have applied for another detention order.

The community is not as safe as it otherwise could have been despite a Victorian Supreme Court judge ruling the strict conditions ameliorated the risk, acting opposition leader Sussan Ley said. 

“He’s the worst of the worst,” she told Sky News.

“He threatened to bomb the MCG – imagine a bomb going off in the middle of the Matildas game, in the middle of the AFL Grand Final.

“Why is (Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus) not taking action here? Someone should be sacked over this.”

Australian Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus.
 Mark Dreyfus applied to have the order imposed for three years but a judge ruled it would be one. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS 

Mr Dreyfus vehemently denied there was any stronger application he could have made given the evidence presented to the court as he chastised the opposition for suggesting otherwise.

Justice Elizabeth Hollingworth ruled “it was clear on the evidence” presented by experts to the court that Benbrika’s risk was low enough after almost two decades behind bars to be managed in the community under strict supervision. 

“What the opposition has repeatedly suggested is that the government ignore the advice of our police, of our security agencies and experts and ignore the law and that has to stop,” Mr Dreyfus told reporters in Melbourne.

“The opposition has repeatedly undermined confidence in the Australian Federal Police, in our state and territory police forces and their ability to protect community safety.”

Mr Dreyfus applied to have the order imposed for the maximum three years but the judge ruled it would only be in place for one.

The government would make another application if need be when the order expired, Mr Dreyfus said.

Playing politics and drumming up fear risked undermining community trust, Professor Barton said.

“Given the terrible context of what’s happening in Gaza, people are asking themselves, are we as Muslims always under suspicion?” he said. 

“When they hear this kind of political conversation, I think it risks undermining trust and readiness to participate in these (support and deradicalisation) programs.

“That actually puts our community at risk and threatens national security, so political discourse does matter.”

It also destroys the concept that people can be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society after serving their prison sentence if the community says “we’re going to distrust you for life”, he added.

Working towards rehabilitation “because you’ll have a better chance of getting back to society and getting on with life” was an apt message to send, he said. 

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