SYDNEY MORNING HERALD – The terrorist suspect Willie Virgile Brigitte is believed to have revealed that his instructions to link with an explosives expert while in Sydney came from a contact in Pakistan, where he is alleged to have received al-Qaeda training. It is understood that he also told interrogators in Paris he had obtained a new “clean” passport before coming to Australia on a tourist visa, so that his trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan would not be revealed.
In Sydney, members of five of the seven households raided by ASIO and federal and state police on Sunday as alleged Brigitte associates have sought legal help.
A solicitor, Adam Houda, said the men who spoke to him were members of the mainly Wahabi fundamentalist Muslim sect which worships at the Haldon Street Prayer Centre in Lakemba. Some passports had been confiscated and at least two revoked.
In a day which saw some argument over the nature of Brigitte’s activities in Australia, there were signs that ASIO would use its tough new mandatory questioning powers for the first time in coming weeks.
Brigitte is believed to have told French counter-terrorist police in recent days that he only wanted to defend Islam in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Chechnya, rather than attack Western-based Christians, and had travelled to Australia for personal reasons.
Under questioning, he told police he became anxious when approached by an associate from his time in Pakistan about sheltering an explosives expert with known terrorist links in Sydney. Soon after, on October 9, he was arrested.
Information from Brigitte’s French interrogation and the weekend raids has hardened the Howard Government’s belief that at least two other men, and probably more, were part of a network he was putting together here.
Officials remain uncertain, however, whether Brigitte was an imminent threat, or part of a plan to plant a “sleeper” terrorist cell which may not have been activated for years.
The 35-year-old former social worker is understood to have received arms training with Islamic groups linked to al-Qaeda in Pakistan, and tried to enter Afghanistan in late 2001 to join the Taliban. Earlier, he allegedly trained with other would-be Islamic fighters in France.
The Premier, Bob Carr, and AFP Commissioner, Mick Keelty, have toned down their rhetoric after initially claiming that a terror cell centred around Brigitte had been smashed. The remarks had caused deep consternation in some federal quarters, with one government source describing their victorious tone as over the top.
After first agreeing on Tuesday with remarks by Mr Carr a cell had been broken up, Mr Keelty conceded yesterday that “we don’t know whether a cell exactly exists”.
He told the ABC “we need to give the investigators some space to find out the extent of the . . . matter, whether it extends any further in Australia or whether in fact this person was acting as an individual”.
The Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, said “we want to be very cautious in what we say” while Labor’s foreign affairs spokesman, Kevin Rudd, criticised Mr Keelty for his “conflicting comments”.
Mr Carr, asked about his remarks on the breaking up of a cell, said it was “very clear the police visits have had impact on the associations he appeared to be establishing on Australian soil”.
The Government has clamped down on information about Brigitte’s wife, an Australian convert to Islam whom he met and married in September. Authorities have found no evidence that Brigitte sought to use her in any way, and are treating her as innocent.