Australian Jihad: Now you read it, now you don’t

For some time I’ve been wanting to do a series of posts about a book that’s been withdrawn from sale, but I couldn’t find the right peg.

This morning I decided that I’d start a post on the book, Australian Jihad, regardless of the peg issue; and as coincidences are, this other story was kicking around about three men in Ohio who, on Friday 13 June, were convicted of a terrorist plot on the strength of evidence gathered by an undercover agent.

What’s the link? Australian Jihad is a journalistic account of “the battle against terrorism from within and without”, by Martin Chulov – a journalist with Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian. The link is that the main characters are also now on trial, facing similar charges to the three Ohioans.

The Ohio case too contains allegations of insider-trading within the so-called Jihadist organisations that are an issue “uncovered” in Australian Jihad.

The Ohio story

Let’s get this out of the way first. According to Associated Press, “Mohammad Amawi, 28, Marwan El-Hindi, 45, and Wassim Mazloum, 27, face maximum sentences of life in prison. Prosecutors said the men were learning to shoot guns and make explosives while raising money to fund their plans to wage a holy war against U.S. troops.”

However, during the trial it was revealed that all of the incriminating conversations about guns, bombs and killing Americans took place in the presence of an undercover agent, Darren Griffin.

Defense attorneys noted that Griffin was involved in all conversations the prosecution presented to the jury, and that there was no evidence of telephone conversations or e-mails dealing with the alleged plot among only the defendants.

Griffin won the trust of the men by posing as a former soldier who grew disenchanted with U.S. foreign policy who was now intent on violence against America. Prosecutors said even Griffin’s family had been under the impression that he had become a radical.

By planting informants and getting them to ramp up discussions about violence under the guise of religious conversations at a mosque is a neat trick for convincing a jury (who might already want to believe) that your defendants are in fact crazy for jihad.

I think it’s a common tactic in the so-called “war on terror”.

Australian Jihad – background and my plan

Martin Chulov is an experienced reporter on The Australian newspaper, in the last few years his round has included domestic security issues and the threat of terrorism in Australia. He’s also spent some time in the Middle East as a correspondent. In late September or early October 2006, Pan MacMillan released his book Australian Jihad and it got some positive coverage, including the inevitable “extract” published in Chulov’s own paper.

However, by the end of October the book had been withdrawn from sale. The publisher said at the time it was so that the trials of 22 men arrested in Melbourne and Sydney in November of 2005 would not be prejudiced. Pan MacMillan said it stood by the integrity of the book’s author and the accuracy of the text and claimed it had been given legal advice not to reveal the details behind the recall.

The speculation, around at the time was either that a lawyer for one of the defendants at the looming trials (which are now under way) sought an injunction, or even that the then Attorney-General had intervened because the book revealed too much about sensitive operations against alleged terror suspects.

I tried to confirm the reasons with Pan MacMillan at the time because I was writing a chapter for my book on journalism ethics that looked at the coverage of terrorism in Australia and globally. I had by then read Australian Jihad (lucklily obtaining my copy before the edition was pulped). I was able to publish an anodyne statement from the publisher’s PR people, but they would neither confirm nor deny any of the rumours put to them at the time.

The Pan MacMillan statement is fairly innocuous and really says very little beyond that the book was withdrawn so that the trials would not be prejudiced.

I still don’t find this a very satisfying answer, for several reasons. The key one for me is that in Australian Jihad, Martin Chulov goes to extraordinary lengths to disguise the real identities of most of the men he’s talking about. (More on this later)

The second reason I find this hard to believe is that Martin Chulov and many other journalists who were/are covering the story of these alleged plots, arrests and trials, have written stories containing names and identifying features for all the characters in Australian Jihad already anyway.

In that situation, how could Australian Jihad have been any more prejudicial to trials that were yet (in October 2006) to get under way?

I am not drawing a hard conclusion here, but these arguments tend to lend weight to the suspicion that the book was no withdrawn for the stated reasons. Has Chulov perhaps uncovered operational aspects of the “war on terror” in Australia that are sensitive, or embarrass the government spy agencies; or is there another reason why the authorities wanted it withdrawn from sale?

Maybe over the next few weeks we can explore this a bit more.

However, my desire to explore Australian Jihad really comes from curiosity about why Martin Chulov thought it necessary to hide the real names of the characters involved when they were freely available in the media?

I have been through the book with a fine-edged blade and cut through the attempts to disguise the key players. I have developed a concordance that allows us to accurately identify each of the main characters from published media reports.

Over the next few weeks (I’m sure it will take me that long), I want to explore the characters from Chulov’s book against the public record. The idea being to demonstrate that nothing in the book is any more prejudicial to the ongoing trials than material already in the public domain. Once we’ve done that, we can ask again: “Why was this book withdrawn from sale?”

Available extracts from Australian Jihad

THE dread rose in Australian Federal Police agent Mick Kelsey’s gut with every stride as he ran through the teeming, steaming streets of downtown Kuta towards an evil orange glow in the sky. Beside him was another senior agent, Glen McEwen. Both were veterans of all types of police work. Nearing Jalan Legian, the main thoroughfare, they saw people staggering towards them.

Some appeared unhurt but shaken; others were wounded, their blackened, torn beach gear covered in blood. Yet more were cradling the scorched, lifeless bodies of friends and strangers.

As the two men rounded the corner from Poppies Lane, they stopped in their tracks. Fire raged through rubble to their left where a building they knew well once stood, Kuta’s most popular nightspot, the Sari Club. Across the road, firefighters were trying to douse what remained of another drinking haunt, Paddy’s Bar.

A win against terror, 7 October, The Australian

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

MATHEW Stewart was a former private in the Australian Army who became a fully fledged, home-grown Islamic holy warrior.

The authorities believe that Stewart, to this day, is the Australian most entrenched with al-Qaida, a man who took to the hills in August 2001 and has never emerged.

Surfer who turned to terror 8 Otober 2006, Courier-Mail

____________________________________________________________________________________________

IN the months following the Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta in 2003, in which 14 people died and 150 were injured at the hands of Jemaah Islamiah, the Bali bomb maker Azahari Hussein and accomplice Noordin Mohammed Top knew they were the most hunted men in the region.

9featpic

One down: An Indonesian police officer crosses bomb maker Azahari Hussein off a wanted poster after he was shot dead in East Java in 2005

The Indonesian national police at various times had more than 1500 men on the tail of the two JI terrorists. The Australians had more than 50 police on the ground, coupled with their satellite technology and the omnipotence of their Defence Signals Directorate’s supercomputers and the open chequebook of the US’s CIA.

It was a formidable armoury for a worthy foe. But they managed to stay ahead of them.

Bomber on the line 9 October 2006, The Australian

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