Muslim Group Rejects Al Qaeda Claims

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - A Muslim organization in Australia has denied claims that one of its key members is an al Qaeda operative who helped plan terror attacks against American targets.

The Sydney-based Islamic Youth Movement (IYM) said in a statement Wednesday it was considering whether to take legal action against an Australian Broadcasting Corp. television program, which first aired the allegations.

The ABC program "Four Corners" on Monday night named Bilal Khazal, a Lebanese-born Australian, as an important al Qaeda agent in Australia.

Citing intelligence from a CIA report, it said he had trained with al Qaeda in Afghanistan in 1998 and had helped to plan terrorist attacks on U.S. targets in the Philippines and Venezuela.

The IYM said Khazal had never trained in Afghanistan, planned attacks on U.S. interests or raised funds for groups with terrorist links.

It said the reports were encouraging hatred of Arabs and Muslims.

A leading organization representing Australian Muslims, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, has also voiced concern about the IYM.

The federation's chief executive officer, Amjad Mehboob, said some of the publications issued by the IYM seemed aimed at dividing the Muslim community.

A spokesman for another Islamic group told earlier that, while there were differences in approach between the IYM and some other Muslims in Sydney, the allegations were considered unfounded.

Khazal produces a news publication for the IYM. On its online edition, interviews from several years ago with such figures as Osama bin Laden and senior Taliban officials can still be read.

Lawmakers have in the past raised concerns about the controversial publication, called Nida'ul Islam (the Call of Islam).

The Australian government has confirmed that Khazal's passport has been confiscated because of security concerns, although he has not been arrested or charged with any criminal offense.

One of the main concerns raised in the ABC program related to the fact that Khazal worked as a baggage handler for the national carrier, Qantas, until March 2000.

He was employed at Sydney airport -- the country's busiest -- but was moved to another department in a security review held shortly before the city hosted the 2000 Olympic Games.

Transport Minister John Anderson said security vetting of airport employees has been considerably tightened.

"People who hold ... airport security cards will now face the toughest and most stringent background checks of any country in the Western world, including checks for political involvement and attitude," he said.

See earlier story:
Australia Acts Against Alleged Al Qaeda Agent (June 10, 2003)

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow