A Sydney man alleged to have organised Australians to fight in Syria’s civil war, and another who was allegedly on his way to the frontline, are now behind bars.
A four-month operation by the Australian Federal Police and NSW Police snagged the pair on rarely used foreign incursion charges on Tuesday.
The first man, Hamdi Alqudsi, is alleged to be the linchpin in a criminal group recruiting Australian men to fight with terrorist groups Jabhat al-Nusra and affiliates of al-Qaeda.
The 39-year-old allegedly organised travel and overseas contacts for seven Australians, including 23-year-old Amin Mohammed, who was arrested at Brisbane Airport on Tuesday.
Alqudsi, of St Helens Park, will be freed on bail provided he can raise a $10,000 surety, Bankstown Local Court heard.
He is banned from contacting Mohammed and prosecution witnesses, many of whom are overseas, before his next court appearance in February.
Earlier, NSW commissioner of special operations Catherine Burn told reporters his arrest “puts a significant dent” into a network recruiting young Australians for the war.
At Burwood Local Court, Mohammed’s lawyer Peter Allport argued his client had planned to travel to Syria, but there was no evidence to suggest it was to take part in the war.
“They may have been going as humanitarian workers,” he told the court.
Mohammed had planned to travel on to Turkey and Denmark to meet up with a girl as part of a family arranged marriage, he said.
Mr Allport also argued recorded phone conversations should be interpreted liberally given they were in Arabic, which relies on “description, emotion and colour” for effect.
Mohammed was granted bail on conditions including that he surrender his passport, but was unable on Tuesday to raise $5000 a surety.
He will remain behind bars until a February court date.
The AFP says around 100 Australians are suspected of being involved in the Syrian conflict at the moment.
Investigations into others involved in the network are continuing, with more arrests expected.
The men are not involved in any terrorism threat against Australia.
The AFP says Alqudsi and Mohammed are the first Australians to be charged with foreign incursion offences in relation to the Syrian conflict.
Victorian grandfather Gerard Michael Little, 46, was in September sentenced to seven months and six days jail in time already served for the same offence.
Little had pleaded guilty to training to fight in the West Papuan independence movement.
The Crimes (Foreign Incursions and Recruitment) Act 1978 makes it an offence to travel to a foreign state – or assist someone to travel – with the intention to engage in hostile activity, or to train or be trained in hostile activities.