from an Aug. 31 report by Dylan Welch, Rafael Epstein and Erik Jensen of the Sydney Morning Herald
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—SIX women living in Australia have been named by American intelligence agencies as potential targets of an al-Qaeda plot to recruit women for terror attacks, according to a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks.
The women—four Australians, a Briton and a Filipina—are among 23 people based in Australia alleged by ASIO and the US State Department to be connected to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
”Recent threat information suggests [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] is looking to identify a female for a future attack,” the cable states, referring to the organisation’s most internationally active branch.
The branch, referred to as AQAP, is believed to have played a role in most attempted attacks in the West since 2009. Of particular concern to intelligence agencies is a belief that many on the list have been in contact with AQAP’s chief propagandist and radical preacher, Anwar al Awlaqi.
But some on the list, including a prominent Sydney imam, have strongly rejected the claims, saying they bear little relation to the truth.
The Age has been told more than 100 people with links to Australia are on similar lists, and are being monitored by US agencies and police in Australia.
There are concerns those on these lists disappear off ”the passport radar” in countries such as Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates. They then travel to countries like Yemen and Pakistan for terrorism training.
But the quality of the information has been questioned by Sheikh Abdel Zoud, imam at Sydney’s Belmore Mosque. He told The Age that he had no idea why he was on the list as he had never been to Yemen, had never spoken to al Awlaqi, sent him money nor visited his website.
”I have no connection with this man,” he said. ”I challenge them to find any connection between him and me.”
He said neither ASIO nor the US Consulate had contacted him. ”This is fabricated news.”
The cable, written by the US embassy in Canberra in January last year, was sent to US intelligence agencies and 15 US diplomatic stations around the world.
The 23 names were given by ASIO to the US, which put them on the ”Visas Viper” program, a database used for watch-listing suspected terrorists. Eleven were banned from flying in the US, and the other 12 were subject to increased security screening.
But Stephen Hopper, a lawyer who represents two of the women, and has met nine others on the list, says the claims are baseless.
”I think it is a storm in a tea cup, it’s just poppycock. Everyone can get out from under the bed, there is no threat there from these people,” Mr Hopper said. ”It is same old same old.”
Some of the names have appeared in the media previously, including long-time ASIO target Rabiah Hutchinson; Shyloh Giddins, an Australian woman arrested in Yemen last year; and Melanie Brown, wife of convicted terrorist associate Willie Brigitte.
Many of those on the list are connected to Ms. Hutchinson, known as the ”matriarch” of radical Islam in Australia. Two of the men on the list are her children.
(More next week)