Thursday, September 1, 2011

Assange accuses Government of 'ratting out' Australians

Australian Broadcasting Corporation


Reporter: John Stewart

WikiLeaks has released a classified US embassy cable containing an ASIO list of Australians linked to a radical Yemeni cleric.


TONY JONES, PRESENTER: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has accused the Federal Government of ratting out Australians named in a classified US embassy cable.

Intelligence claims they had links to a radical Yemeni cleric.

Well the list was created by ASIO and warns that Al Qaeda operatives based in Yemen could be trying to recruit women to carry out terrorist attacks.

But a Sydney lawyer who represents four of the people on the list has told Lateline that some of the information provided to the Americans by ASIO is wrong.

John Stewart reports.

JOHN STEWART, REPORTER: Anwar al-Awlaki was born in America. About a decade ago, he joined Al Qaeda in Yemen. The radical Muslim cleric has been tied to plots against the United States and now he's one of America's most wanted.

Last night, WikiLeaks released a classified cable from the American embassy in Canberra. The cable names 23 people; they are Australians or have connections here. All are said to have past or present links to the Yemen-based al-Awlaki.

The list was compiled by ASIO and 11 were subsequently placed on a no-fly list and a further 12 put on a terrorism watchlist.

The US cable also warns that Al Qaeda is recruiting women for terrorist attacks.

Sydney lawyer Stephen Hopper represents four of the people. He says the list is old and has no new information about his clients.

STEPHEN HOPPER, LAWYER: They're very frustrated, but they just roll their eyes and think, "Oh, yet again." You know, "When are they going to get over it?"

JOHN STEWART: The 23 Australians named by ASIO include Sydney sheikh Abdel Zodd, Sydney woman and long-time ASIO target Rabiah Hutchinson and Melanie Brown, the Australian wife of convicted terrorist associate Willie Brigitte.

Rabiah Hutchinson's lawyer, Stephen Hopper, says his client has never met al-Awlaki and that ASIO's information about his client is wrong.

STEPHEN HOPPER: Ms Hutchinson could never have been connected to al-Awlaki. She was in detention in Iran for two years before she surrendered to the Australian Embassy. At that stage her passport was cancelled and she hasn't left Australia.

JOHN STEWART: In 2008, Rabiah Hutchinson was interviewed by the ABC. Ms Hutchinson said she knew that she was regarded with suspicion by non-Muslims.

RABIAH HUITCHINSON, NO FLY LIST (2008): I would defend Islam with my life, so that makes me a filthy, dirty, subhuman terrorist that deserves anything that anybody and everybody wants to do to them.

JOHN STEWART: Ms Hutchinson has been referred to as the Grande Dame of Terror, a title she rejects. She's still unable to leave Australia after the Government refused to renew her passport.

Two of Ms Hutchinson's sons are also among the 23 people on the list.

Terrorism expert Clive Williams says that in recent years American authorities have been increasingly concerned about Al Qaeda in Yemen and al-Awlaki's influence as a key terrorist leader.

CLIVE WILLIAMS, TERRORISM EXPORT, MACQUARIE UNI: I think they see him as more dangerous than Dr Al-Zawahiri these days. He's really become the propagandist for Al Qaeda and for extremist ideology more generally. And he is certainly more of a worry, I think, for the Americans in particular than anybody else at this stage.

JOHN STEWART: Another of Stephen Hopper's clients, Sydney woman Shyloh Giddens, is also on the list. Ms Giddens was arrested in Yemen last year and deported to Australia after her passport was cancelled on advice from ASIO.

STEPHEN HOPPER: Shyloh may have met a number of persons of interest. What I can say about that is that it's completely benign.

JOHN STEWART: Last night, the federal Attorney-General broke the Government's longstanding position not to comment on material published by WikiLeaks and condemned the release of the uncensored cable, saying, "On occasions in the past, WikiLeaks has decided to redact identifying features where security operations or safety could be put at risk. This has not occurred in this case. ... The publication of any information that could compromise Australia's national security or inhibit the ability of intelligence agencies to monitor potential threats is incredibly irresponsible."

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hit back at the Australian Government, saying "Australian Attorney-General Robert McClelland bemoans having his department being publicly caught out ratting out 23 Australians to the US embassy without due process. ... If Mr McClelland is unhappy about being caught out, perhaps he should consider cancelling my Australian passport again. It has not, after all, proven terribly useful to me in the last 267 days of detention without charge. Or, perhaps he could do us all a favour, cancel his own passport and deport himself?"

Today the Sydney sheikh Abdel Zodd said he had no contact with al-Awlaki and had never been to Yemen.

There is no evidence that anyone placed on the list by as ASIO has been planning a terrorist attack.

John Stewart, Lateline.

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