SYDNEY (AFP) – Two men charged in Australia with allegedly recruiting, funding and sending militant fighters to Syria faced court Thursday as Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced new measures to stem terrorism financing.
Omar Succarieh, 31, and Agim Kruezi, 21, appeared in a Brisbane court after their arrests in anti-terrorism raids on Wednesday following a year-long police investigation.
Police said Succarieh – the brother of Abu Asma al Australi, the first suspected Australian suicide bomber in Syria – and Kruezi have links to militant group Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria.
Both men were remanded in custody and will return to court on October 17.
Their appearance coincided with Abbott allocating Aus$20 million (US$18 million) for anti-laundering agency AUSTRAC “to improve detection and disruption of terrorism financing” as part of a Aus$630 million counter-terrorism package.
“The consequences of participating in terrorism financing are severe and penalties of up to life imprisonment can be imposed on those found guilty,” he said in a joint statement with Attorney-General George Brandis.
An AUSTRAC report released with the announcement said that while there was a “relatively low incidence” of terrorism financing in Australia, the practice continues to pose a national security risk to the local community.
The government believes up to 60 Australians are fighting alongside Islamic State (IS) militants, while another 100 are actively working to support the movement at home.
Both IS and Al-Nusra have been listed as terrorist organisations in Australia.
Abbott told reporters the threat from IS was “at least as much a domestic security issue for us as it is an international security issue”.
“This is not a conflict which is remote to us. It might be thousands of miles away, but there are people from here going there and there are people from there coming here.”
The arrests came after the country’s spy chief David Irvine said this week he was “actively considering” raising the nation’s terror threat level over concerns about the involvement of Australians in overseas militant groups.