Sydney sheikh Zouheir Issa accused of funding Australian jihadist leading militia in Syria conflict

Sydney sheikh Zouheir Issa accused of funding Australian jihadist leading militia in Syria conflict

A Sydney sheikh has been accused of funding a central figure in the Syrian conflict, an Australian-Lebanese dual national with ties to Al Qaeda and who runs a well-armed militia in northern Lebanon.

Zouheir Issa has been preaching at south-west Sydney's Al-Azhar Belmore Mosque since coming to Australia in 2005. An adherent of the ultraconservative Salafi Islamic strain, he is no friend to the Syrian government of Bashar al Assad.

But what has been unrevealed until now is that Australian authorities believe he has provided funding to Houssam Sabbagh - a Lebanese man who lived in Sydney for two decades but is today a powerful militia leader in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.

Mr Sabbagh is wanted in Lebanon on weapons charges. He is regularly described in the Lebanese press as being involved with Al Qaeda and helping to provide fighters and weapons for jihadist groups fighting in Syria, including the Al Qaeda-linked group, Jabhat Al-Nusrah.

Funding organisations such as Al-Nusrah, which is a proscribed terrorist organisation in Australia is a crime.

The allegations will concern authorities, who are already on the alert due to the dozens of young Australians who have travelled to Syria to fight with groups such as Al-Nusrah and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

"It's the greatest security threat to Australia this century," former head of counter terrorism for Scotland Yard, Nick O'Brien, told the ABC's 7.30 program.

"What we have is a number of Australians who are going over to conflict areas to fight, they're getting trained in how to use explosives and how to use guns and ammunition and if they come back to Australia they're going to come back with a reinforced mindset."

Mr Issa told 7.30 this week that he did not know Mr Sabbagh well and had never funded him.

That statement is contradicted by long-time Lebanese militant Salafi network watcher, Bernard Rougier.

"Everybody who knew [Sabbagh] or who was close to him said there was a good relationship with Sheik Issa," Mr Rougier says.


Copyright 2007