By Neena Bhandari, IANS
Canberra : Contrary to expectations that he might walk free, Muhammad Haneef, the Indian doctor being detained in Brisbane for the past 13 days, has been charged with supporting a terrorist organisation by “recklessly” giving his mobile phone SIM card to people planning the UK bomb attacks.
The offence carries a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison.
Haneef’s lawyer Peter Russo told the media that his client was very upset by the news and will apply for bail. He told the ABC that he had spent all night at the Australian Federal Police (AFP) headquarters in Brisbane, where his client was questioned.
Haneef, 27, who was working as a registrar in the Gold Coast Hospital, was arrested by the AFP in connection with the foiled UK bomb plot on July 2 at Brisbane international airport just before flying to India.
Haneef is said to have told authorities that he was on his way to Bangalore to visit his wife who had just given birth.
His wife, Firdaus Arshya, had said in Bangalore Friday: “The ordeal is over. I am sure he will be back soon.”
Haneef was arrested under Australian counter-terrorism laws after his mobile phone’s SIM card was found in the possession of one of the British suspects, later identified by media reports as Sabeel Ahmed.
AFP Mick Keelty told reporters: “The allegation being that he was reckless about some of the support he provided to that group, in particular the provision of his SIM card for the use of the group.”
Keelty said, “The detention of Dr Haneef, whilst attracting considerable media attention, is something that the organisation and certainly myself believed was necessary in order to afford everybody the best opportunity to understand what has occurred”.
An AFP statement said, “He has been charged with providing support to a terrorist organisation contrary to Section 102.7(2) of the Criminal Code Act 1995.”
Almost 300 police and lawyers have been involved in the investigation. Keelty told the media, “It remains to be seen whether the UK (police) have any evidence in the UK that would sustain an extradition application.”
On Friday afternoon, the AFP on the eleventh hour had decided to drop the application to extend the detention period of Haneef and he was moved from the Brisbane Watch House to the state police headquarters next door, where his interrogation began at 3 p.m. AEST yesterday.
The AFP had 12 hours to question Haneef, excluding usual break times such as meals and sleep.
Haneef moved to Australia from Britain last year on a 457 work visa. He is the second cousin of Kafeel and Sabeel Ahmed, two of the suspects being held in Britain. The three reportedly shared a house in Liverpool, UK for up to two years and had remained in contact by phone and online messaging after Haneef joined the Gold Coast hospital.
Official documents cited by The Australian newspaper on Friday had said Haneef gave the SIM card to Sabeel Ahmed before he moved to Australia from Britain last year so that his cousin could take advantage of free minutes left on his mobile phone plan.
According to media reports here, the police have also said they suggest a possible link between Haneef and Bilal Abdullah, the Iraqi doctor charged with conspiracy to cause the blasts in London and Glasgow.
Meanwhile, a Sydney barrister had told ABC radio yesterday that any trial of Haneef would be unfair if he is charged. Phillip Bolton had questioned the amount of leaks that have been published.
Another barrister Lex Lasry told ABC TV’s Lateline programme: “I think the real disadvantage in this case, or at least the real potential disadvantage and unfairness in this case, has been that Dr Haneef has had two weeks of solid publicity, including commentaries from the attorney-general and prime minister at one stage, so if he does have to face a trial, then inevitably the fairness of that trial is going to be affected by publicity,”
Prime Minister John Howard has reiterated that the anti-terrorism laws enacted by his government were very much needed. He told reporters in Launceston, in the island state of Tasmania, “I will say that Dr Haneef is entitled to the presumption of innocence. But without commenting on his particular circumstances, all of this is a reminder that terrorism is a global threat … you can’t pick and choose where you fight terrorism. You can’t say I will fight it over there but I won’t fight it here.”
Federal Opposition Labour Party Leader Kevin Rudd said, “”My message to the Australian people is this: that when it comes to terrorism, terrorists and those who support terrorist organisations, this country must continue to adopt a hardline uncompromising stance – there are no alternatives”.