Can ASIO ride it with Sheikh Omran?
September 2003. Melbourne Australia. Sheikh Mohamed Omran aka Abu Rayman Emir and Secretary–General of the Wahabi-Salaffi fundamentalist Islamic organization known as Ahl as Sunnah wal Jamah (The People of the Group), was in a state of rage.
Why didn’t the Australian Security and Intelligence Organization (ASIO) tell him, the most fundamental of all Islamic fundamentalists in Australia, that the media would be parked outside the door of his modest suburban home? And tramping over his front yard!
Kafir here, Kafir there- eve
rywhere! Why didn’t ASIO tell him that he would be linked in the media as an alleged Australian Al Qaeda contact. And media reports would link him to notorious terrorist Abu Dahdah. And his boyhood friend, the unjustly accused Sheikh Qatada, in London! Not to mention his good friends and associates in The Islamic Youth Movement in Sydney!
He felt betrayed. Worse: humiliated! Worse still; his honor was impugned! Shame! Even worse he was not in control. A power-challenge situation was developing!
He first met ASIO (was it eight or nine years ago-most likely eight) in Sydney. The Regional Director NSW no less. And before the Sydney Olympics. And now this! Spoiling his operational games with ASIO. Curse them!
A strange parallel program was running. While the Sheikh plunged into his media counter-offensive the Government and the AFP were briefing media and confirming reports claiming the Sheikh and his ‘friends’ were and had been ‘persons of interest’ (targets). Curious. Governments rarely comment or even acknowledge such matters – unless they are fully confident of the truth of their claims.
Still, he was proud of his other organization, The Islamic Information and Support Centre of Australia (IISCA), which enjoyed a great relationship with the Australian Government. Further, he was a good Australian. He was naturalized. He had lived in Australia for twenty years and even married an Australian woman. Now that was unusual! But then most of his terrorist friends had married Australians or become naturalized Australian citizens giving a new meaning to the term ‘opportunity targets’.
In the attendant publicity through September and October 2003, the Sheikh never referred to his movement’s pro-Jihad and anti-Semitic website www.iisca.org which features an essay by Sydney Lakemba based Sheikh Abdus Salaam Zoud of Masjid Ahlus-Sunnah calling for Islamic jihad and espousing murderous anti-Semitism and recommending links to notorious jihad web sites including Azzam publications. Sheikh Ziad incited believers to crush the Jews and the Crusaders:
‘Allah grant victory to the Mujaahideen (sic) fighting for your sake in every time and place, for you are able to do all things. Allah digrace (sic) the Jews and the crusaders. Crush them’.
The Sheikh is so confident of his mastery that his website features media articles about him! Articles which express fear and concern about his real intentions! Such confidence! The Sheikh makes hardened Australian journalists, even well briefed journalists, apprehensive, even nervous. Are they standing on sinking sand? Even the most skilled find him opaque. And ominous.
Interviewed through September, October 2003 the Sheikh is in good form. Closed questions are turned into open questions. The Sheikh is back in town. And he’s humming!
Q: ‘What do you know about Al Qaeda?’
Sheikh: ‘What you know I know.’
Such modesty. Such diversion!
However, at the hands of a skilled and brilliant evidence-based investigative reporter, the Sheikh does not fare so well.
Q: You are following the ‘Salafhi ‘tradition?
Sheikh: ‘I could say yes and I could say no. But this is what we didn’t call ourselves Salhafi, we called ourselves Ahl as-Sunnah wal Jamaah…’
Q: Others have said to us we don’t know enough about this group. Do you think that some Muslims in Australia are uncomfortable with your tradition?
Sheikh: ‘Well, I think maybe. I don’t want to say no. It could be yes….’
But does he follow the Salafi tradition? Yes.
Q: Have any of your supporters gone and trained in military camps?
Sheikh: ‘Of course not, Of course not. No. Terrorist is a big word, maybe the people today understand it in different er, issues, or in different places than how it should be understood.’
Q: Well, have any of your supporters gone and trained in camps overseas, military camps?
Sheikh: ‘Maybe, yes, Maybe. But this is nothing to do with the group. This is individual work this is individual work for his own mind, for his own welcome. He does it according to his own will. So we as a group, we don’t have an agenda to work with these things.’
Q; It may not be the view of the group, but why do you think it is that individuals who gravitate towards your group have gone overseas and trained in these camps?
Sheikh: ‘That’s not true. That’s not true. The people go from more than different groups, from Tebliri background, from our background, from Sheikh Taj Hilaly, Sydney’s Lakemba mufti from Sheikh Fehmi Preston Vic mosque) background, from so many different states and so many leaders lets say.’
According to intelligence sources, the Islamic Youth Movement with which the Sheikh is closely associated has sent up to seven members ‘overseas’ for military training, which the Sheikh compares to training in the Australia Army reserves! What a sense of humor! Ribald really. But is he funny?
The journalist shows the Sheikh three names.
Q: I assume you know these names. (Shows Omran a piece of paper with three names written on it) Have they been to an overseas training camp?
Sheikh: ‘They are Islamic names. I know them yes.’
Q: Has each of these men been overseas in a training camp? …
Sheikh: ‘I don’t know. This is not, how you say it, my business to talk of these things.’
Q: But do you know it.
Sheikh: ‘Well you know it, I know it everyone knows it. So why do you ask me something (that’s) been in the newspapers hundreds of times? As I have said before to train is something and to be a terrorist is something else. There is not association between this and that’.
‘Not association between this and that!’ The Sheikh is hip to Kant and Hume! Causality is inferred. How do we know the sun will rise tomorrow? Is the Sheikh familiar with the philosophy classic ‘The Concept of Mind’ by Gilbert Ryle which refers to ‘systematically misleading expressions’? And ‘the ghost in the machine’?
But what would it take to concern the Sheikh?
Q: Are there elements of the Islamic Youth Movement in Sydney who worry you?
Sheikh: ‘Why worry me?’
Q: Because they’re quite hard-line fundamentalist, perhaps quite prone to violence.
Sheikh: ‘Ha ha ha. I don’t think so. I don’t think any Muslim I know or I come across has these elements.’
Q: But is it a concern in the current international climate that there are seven of these guys who have trained overseas in these camps? Does that worry you as an Australian?
Sheikh: ‘No, it doesn’t worry me at all. Because I know this, the people who go there that doesn’t mean they come to harm Australia…’
‘The people who go there.’ What people? Who go where?
Is this an admission that he knows of ‘people’ who have gone to (imaginary) camps? Has he told his ASIO contacts?
Back to the Sheikh’s ASIO dilemma. The Sheikh rang his ASIO counter terrorism contact in Melbourne. Angry: He believed he enjoyed a special relationship, ‘a good relationship’;
Sheikh: ‘Well, understanding relationship and I could say mutual relationship. They value the way I talk to them, advise them sometimes, and the way they talk to me again and advise me sometimes.’
‘When September 11 happened….officers came straight away running to me.’ He and ‘(ASIO) Intelligence officers sit sometimes for hours discussing the policies of the government…’
Hadn’t he showed them a video of ‘The Long kiss Goodnight’ in which the CIA set up terrorist operations to increase their budget?
In his own house in Coburg Melbourne! And to think he had described them publicly as;‘Some nice men from ASIO!’
‘Each month they come here. They sit and drink my coffee. We talk for two, maybe three hours. They ask me if I know this person or that person. I tell them the truth. I have nothing to hide. It is a civilized relationship.’
His door was not busted in when the police raided homes in Sydney and Perth. He felt good about that.
‘Not in Melbourne. I said to ASIO: ‘If you are going to do raids in Melbourne, I ask you not to come before 7 am. Civilized time. And please, no doors kicked in. And please women should not be part of the team. Your women can talk to our women. ‘
‘I said to ASIO..’ He was in charge. And now this problem. He felt humiliated.
‘I was so upset with ASIO. I called them and said, ‘Why didn’t you inform me so I can prepare for the media? …. ‘The ASIO Manager himself came’.
He aint heavy, he’s my brother!
The Sheikh publicly admits to knowing, meeting, admiring and claims friendship with many brothers or Brothers. He claims that his meetings were ‘personal’ but his ‘personal’ friends have a common quality: All are heavy hitters. All are the focus of operational interest and concern to Australian and international intelligence organizations. All key regional and international terrorists. All supporters or connected to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.
Perhaps he is making a genuine category mistake and confuses ‘friends’ with identified terrorists.
So what does the Sheikh think of his ‘friends’?
Abu Qatada, suspected head of Al Qaeda in England: The Sheikh hosted his visit to Australia in 1994 and accompanied him on speaking tours to Sydney and Melbourne. They last met in England in June 2001 according to Spanish court documents. The Sheikh reportedly travelled under his ‘other name’ Abu Ayman. He is believed to be a member of Al Qaeda fatwa committee which ‘authorizes’ terrorist attacks. He is believed to have pre-knowledge of the 9 11 terrorist attacks. According to the Sheikh, Qatada is a boyhood friend who remains) a friend.
||JI Emir Abu Bakir Bashir: Sentenced to four years imprisonment in Indonesia. Chairman of Jihad Council. Played a key inspirational-organizational in the Bali terrorist attacks. The Sheikh first met him in 1998 and guided him round Australia during one of his eleven visits-described him as ‘a very peaceful man!’|
Bilal Kazal: Islamic Youth Movement leader and organizer of publications and web site, alleged Al Qaeda funder, recruiter described by CIA as OBL’s man on the ground in Australia’ . – ‘a wise person!
||The Ayub terrorist twins: JI recruiters for the Bali terrorist attack. According to a former JI source the Ayub twins regularly net with the Sheikh during his stay in Western Australia. Incapable of violence …lovely people!|
|Abu Dahdah: Spanish court documents allege repeated contacts between Abu Dahdah and Sheikh Mohammed Omran. The documents say Abu Dahdah called Sheikh Omran on an Australian mobile number and listed the Sheik in his diary. Sheik Omran says he has never been approached by authorities about the matter.|
None of them are terrorists of course. The UK, European and US Governments and intelligence services have obviously made a terrible error. They are all misunderstood. Their offence? Being Muslims! The Sheikh has shaped cognitive denial to an art form. According to the Sheikh, JI – the Islamic fundamentalist group, which organized the Bali bombing does not exist! Which is true from the perspective of his magical and regressed ‘thinking’. When the child closes his eyes, the image appears to vanish. But the image remains, although the Sheikh would disagree. The image is all. According to the Sheikh’s epistemology the image is more real than the object! And may even replace it – such is the power of magical thinking.
The Sheikh claims there is no law against having friends; not even friends who are friends of Osama Bin Laden. True. And misleading. And irrelevant.
As Kobbe is to Opera, the Sheikh is to terrorism.
But. Does he report his contacts and meetings which read like a Who’s Who of terrorism to ASIO? Or the Australian Federal Police?
Opinion of the Sheikh is divided. Some would prefer he is inside the tent rather than outside the tent. Others express concern however, that the Sheikh appears to enjoy the operational initiative and tempo. He appears to control operational time and space. The meetings are scheduled at his residence. Would he voluntarily participate to a professional and structured interview with an Australian law enforcement or intelligence organization in a location of their choice? And their scheduling?
But is the Sheikh a reliable ‘source?’ Is he a Sultan of Spin? An expert in static and noise? An imam dressed like a fifth century scholar but answering questions like a post-structuralist! The joking jihadist!
The Sheikh has unique access to rare and precious information sources – But can ASIO rely on the Sheikh to warn us of terrorist threats to Australia?
According to members of the Islamic Support and Information Centre management committee who refused to be identified recently claimed in a newspaper interview The Weekend Australian (18-19 October 2003):
‘…if they suspected one of their followers was planning a terrorist act they would go to Omran before they would go to ASIO.’
What does the Sheikh say?
‘I would – then call an emergency meeting to discuss the matter’.
An emergency meeting? To discuss the matter? Of what? It could well be too late! Or would he….
Is the Sheikh playing chess while ASIO is playing checkers? Is the Sheikh engaging in asymmetrical warfare by another name? Is he learning ASIO methodology, persons of interest, and targets during the interviews?
The Sheikh poses many dilemmas for ASIO – more than a mere test of skills. More than the will of battle against the battle of wills! ASIO is operating ’with’ or against the hardest of targets; managing a ‘relationship’ with an avowed Islamic fundamentalist:
Entering the Sheikh’s kingdom of curved mirrors
The proper study of terrorism is the study of culture.
To enter the Sheikh’s Kingdom of Curved Mirrors requires understanding the Sheikh’s masterly use of taqiyya, outwitting and esoteric communications; familiarity with foreign cultures and dialects, foreign languages and esoteric religious traditions and intimate knowledge of Sunni-Shiite rivalries dating back over fourteen hundred years, knowledge of Salaffist-Wahabbi and Sunni-Shiite teachings and doctrines, the symbolic and doctrinal significance of the battles of Siffeen and Jamal; the controversy over iitjihad, the perfection of the Shariah and its anti-democratic objectives, its commitment to war against Kaafir, and the doctrine of Jihad for Allah’s sake.
And that’s a short list!
The Sheikh carefully crafts indirect triple entendre threats. For example, interviewed on SBS TV Insight Program, 30 October 2003, the Sheikh chillingly recalled:
‘Once I said to the ASIO officers, I said ‘Do you have an agenda here to blow up the country?’ They said, what are you talking about Sheikh? Of course not, we are here to save Australia.’
I say ‘If you are, you should watch yourselves and the media and what they are doing, because what are you doing today? You are really driving people, even the humble and soft person; you try to drive him to become crazy.’
‘You should watch yourselves….’
A projective threat! Through projective identification – blaming and projecting onto others – the deed he wishes, the Sheikh is threatening terrorism. He is also saying in his cryptic coded manner that ASIO – not the Sheikh and certainly not Islam as it is a peaceful religion – will be responsible for any act of terrorism. ASIO will have driven terrorists to engage in terrorism from engineered despair. Of course, the Sheikh and his ‘friends’ will be innocent.
Islamic Terrorist Discourse
The Closed Circle by David Price-Jones refers to the recollections of former US intelligence officer Kenneth Pender based in the Middle East during world war two:
‘Arab psychology is a fascinating study. At first I was completely baffled by some of the conversations I had with them. As I carefully recorded my notes afterwards, I would find that my written record of the conversation was quite different from the impression I had of it. Sometimes it seemed exactly the opposite.’
Conversations took place on a ‘series of different planes’; the upper stratum that appeared to be the main subject, with underneath four or five planes on which the Muslim was also communicating: ‘They appear, glance and retreat, or are only felt – like lights in a prism.’
Direct closed, yes – no questions are avoided. A rhetorical / oracular conversational style which former US Secretary of State Dr Henry Kissinger recalled he could not penetrate a style ‘… at once oblique and persistent, reticent and assertive’. Thoughts and intentions are concealed not revealed. Conversations may resemble a form of magic or sustained illusion. Impressions management prevails. Now you hear it, now you don’t. In Arab and Middle East cultures survival often depends on dissimulation, prevarications, ambiguity, Delphic and gnomic statements. The truth is different there and besides that is another country…
The midnight train is rolling low through the pitch blue, black sky .The moon peers through the cloud. ASIO are pulling up to the station; Sheikh Omran is riding the Mystery train – sixteen coaches long. Can ASIO ride it with the Sheikh?
For examples of the teachings which inspire Sheikh Omran’s Islamic fundamentalism see essays by contributors to http://www.iisca.org – the website of Ahl as- Sunnah wal Jamaah.
Top Cleric Sheikh Omran ‘Stopped’ terror Plot – Did he?
The front page headline in Australia’s national newspaper The Weekend Australian, 18-19 October 2003, was sensational. If true. But behind every story lies the undisclosed narrative, the narrative of truths.
Was Australia’s leading ‘radical Islamic cleric’, Sheikh Omran telling readers the truth? The Sheikh claimed he had advised two Islamic terrorists against a plot to bomb foreign diplomatic missions in Australia in mid 2000 and threatened to inform police. The newspaper claimed a ‘separate source supported’ his claim in a letter he allegedly sent to Indonesian terrorist identity Abu Bajkir Bashir.
But was letter sent? A real scoop would have been to obtain and publish or at least make available to be sighted, the original or a copy of the letter allegedly sent from the Sheikh to the Indonesian cleric. Or identify the ‘separate source’. Was it an Islamic source? A law enforcement or intelligence source? A contaminated or prejudiced source? Or disinformation? Was the letter sent through Australia Post or by courier? Was his the hand that signed the paper? If there was any paper.
The Sheikh claimed that he was approached in Perth WA by Indonesian born twins Abdul Rahmin AYUB of JI , the Indonesian based Islamic terrorist group responsible for the Bali Bombing and Abdul Rahman AYUB, the alleged Australian leader of JI.
Rahim Ayub slipped out of Australia on October 15 2002, three days after the Bali bombing. Rahman Ayub was deported from Australia in 1999 after he failed to gain residency status.
Sheikh OMRAN’s account:
‘They approached me and said (this man Roche) wants to make some attacks on things…and what do you want to do about it? I said, ’go back and if he doesn’t stop thinking about it and talking about it, I am going to stop him’. My threat was real and he stopped – that’s the end of the story.’
Is it? It is actually the beginning of the story.
The twins named C1, a British born convert to Islam, who has pleaded not guilty to charges of plotting with others to destroy or damage the Israeli Embassy in Canberra and the Israeli Consulate in Sydney by fire or explosive. His trial is scheduled to begin 3 May 2004
In an interview published in The Australian, dated 05 September 2003, Sheikh Omran is cited: ‘Sheikh Omran yesterday denied he knew the twins’. Strange. According to a JI member featured in media reports, the Ayub twins were regular visitors to the Sheikh during his period in Western Australia during the 1980s and 1990s. But by 05 September he develops severe fundamentalist amnesia and forgets his relationship with the twins. On 18-19 September he provides an account to The Australian which centered on their alleged involvement with him and his intervention which prevented a terrorist attack.
The Weekend Australian article is an example of the Sheikh’s Arab – Islamic outwitting and taqiyya and expresses the Sheikh’s confidence in his abilities to outwit Australian authorities. In terrorism, timing is all.
Perhaps the Sheikh’s story, claim, fabled narrative, cultural artifact to The Australian was crafted and timed to take the heat off media and government claims that he was a long time person of interest to Australian government agencies due to his ‘personal’ contacts with leading AQ terrorists – in the security of his Kingdom of Curved Mirrors – where truth is shaped by illusion, chimera, constantly falling, swirling and breaking into myriad shapes as in a kaleidoscope. Only when the kaleidoscope is held steadily with a firm unwavering hand can we begin to sight the truth and define the true and underlying patterns – that is the greatest challenge – or threat – the Sheikh poses to Australia.
‘Sheikh Omran defends Abu Qatada’. ABC RADIO PM 18 September.
‘Muslim Vs. Muslim’ Sunday TV program. John Lyons. 30 March 2003
Watching the Sheikh’ The Bulletin 10 September 2003 and interview with the Sheikh ‘I am behind every Muslim in this country’.
‘Terror’s Easy Ride’. Herald-Sun 23 October 2003
David Price-Jones The Closed Circle; An Interpretation of the Arabs.London 1989.
Bernard Lewis The Middle East A Brief History of the Last 2000 Years NY 1995.