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Victoria: Sheik denies any association with Abu Dahdah or al-Qaeda.

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Wednesday 3 September 2003

Sheik Mohammed Omran denies any association with Abu Dahdah or al-Qaeda


MARK COLVIN: So what do the Australians named in the Spanish documents make of their contents and of the fact that the AFP describes them as "persons of interest"? 


The ABC approached Bilal Khazal, but he declined to discuss any of the accusations.  


He has had his passport cancelled. 


Four Corners reported earlier this year that he was told it will never be returned, because of the risk he poses to national security.  


Mohammad Omran, however, did agree to an interview.  


He denies authorities have ever spoken to him about his alleged involvement with terrorism. 


He spoke to PM 's Rafael Epstein. 


RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Do you know someone called Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas? 




RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas. I think he has another name, Abu Dahdah. 


Do you know him? 


MOHAMMAD OMRAN: I've never heard of that name, no. 


RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Never heard of the name? He's from Spain. 


MOHAMMAD OMRAN: No. Spain. What does Spain have to do with us? (laughter) 


RAFAEL EPSTEIN: The Spanish court says that, Abu Dahdah, who they say is Spain's most senior al-Qaeda operative, has your name and phone number in your personal diary, that he contacted you regularly. 


Why is your name popping up in this person's diary and why does it appear that he’s calling you? 


Do you have any idea why that might be? 


MOHAMMAD OMRAN: I don't know. 


RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Do you want me to show you what I'm talking about? 


MOHAMMAD OMRAN: I don't need to, you show me… 


RAFAEL EPSTEIN: I'm just offering. 


MOHAMMAD OMRAN: But am I telling you, if this happened, then where’s the… I don't think you are concerned about this more than the Australian intelligence and if they don't worry about that, that mean it is bullshit, rubbish stuff. 


RAFAEL EPSTEIN: You know that the implication from those court documents is that you are effectively a member of al-Qaeda? 


MOHAMMAD OMRAN: (laughter) That's great. No, I don't know that and I don't believe I am. 


It's not. I don't misunderstand me in that, but really, I am what I am. 


RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Have you heard of a man named Sheikh Omar Mahmoud Mohammad Othman, whose name is Abu Qatada?  


MOHAMMAD OMRAN: Yes, I know him. 


RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Okay. Have you ever spoken to him? 




RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Because you know that he is in jail at the moment? 


MOHAMMAD OMRAN: Yes, of course I know that. 


RAFAEL EPSTEIN: And you're aware that having any involvement with his sort of organisation is now an offence here? 


MOHAMMAD OMRAN: No, I don't know that, but anyhow, he doesn't have any organisation. 


He's a sheikh and he has the right to put his view clearly to the people, and I still remember something said after September the 11th from Mr Bush. He said, you know, these people what they heard was us sitting here in the chamber, have freedom of speech and freedom of religion. 


Where is the freedom of speech? 


So the man never did anything according to my understanding and even according to the English intelligence office and the Australian intelligence office at the same time, none of them could accuse him of anything. 


RAFAEL EPSTEIN: He's accused of being associated with the Salafist Group for Call and Combat. 


That group is now a terror organisation under Australian law, so if you've had contact with him... 


MOHAMMAD OMRAN: I've never heard of that group, and according to my knowledge, he has never been associated with any group ever, and I don't believe that anyone whatsoever, any law can stop you making friendship, as a personal friendship, with anyone. 


And I don't think Australia goes to that law to stop you making a friendship with anyone, even Osama bin Laden himself. 


RAFAEL EPSTEIN: But no-one from the Australian Federal Police has approached you about those sorts of things? 




RAFAEL EPSTEIN: They say that you are one of 65 people who they’re monitoring in cases involving ongoing investigations into terrorism? 


MOHAMMAD OMRAN: It’s absolutely untrue. 


RAFAEL EPSTEIN: But has anyone from the Australian Federal Police ever mentioned that to you? 


MOHAMMAD OMRAN: No. (laughter). 


They've broached my organisation, not me in particular. 


But they've never, ever accused me as a person, as a Sheikh or as an organisation, never been approached with anything like that, never been accused of anything like that and the opposite, the Australian Government are so much in confident with me and my organisation as an Australian great organisation, helping the community in general and our people in particular. 


MARK COLVIN: The Sheik Mohammad Omran, also known as Abu Ayman, who is the leader of the minority Muslim fundamentalist group, Ahl As Sunnah wal-Jamaah.  


He was speaking to Rafael Epstein in Melbourne.