By Richard Kerbaj and Cameron Stewart
December 12, 2007
A MELBOURNE mother is being investigated by police over her links to Somali jihadis and accusations she supports Islamic martyrdom.
The Muslim convert, a friend of Sydney's militant Islamic matriarch Rabiyah Hutchinson, is also alleged to have declared herself and her family "soldiers of Osama bin Laden", who act on his orders.
The allegations are contained in an official statement given to the Australian Federal Police in relation to its investigation into Somali community figures suspected of encouraging dozens of young men to return to their homeland and join Islamic jihad.
The statement accuses another Australian convert, Aisha Whitehead, of encouraging her Somali-born Australian husband Ahmed Ali to fight alongside terrorists in his war-torn homeland.
The mother, who introduced Ms Whitehead to Mr Ali, allegedly told a small gathering of Muslim women in Melbourne that she supported Islamic jihad and was a follower of the hardline Wahabi form of Islam.
"We are Wahabi," the mother is quoted as saying in the sworn statement seen by The Australian and given by a Somali community member to the AFP in August. Asked at the gathering whether it was bad to be a Wahabi, she replied: "No, we are soldiers of Osama bin Laden. We take orders from him. If he tells us to go somewhere, we go."
The mother rejected the claims against her and denied she was an extremist or an advocate for terrorism.
"The allegations are absolutely untrue and without basis," she told The Australian.
Ms Whitehead, whose former name is Carla Marie, travelled to Somalia with Mr Ali in November last year, several weeks before he went missing while fighting with an Islamic militia.
Ms Whitehead was interviewed by AFP officers in July, the day she arrived back in Australia from Somalia.
Australians who engage in hostile activities in a foreign state can be charged under the Foreign Incursions Act.
The AFP's investigation, called Operation Rochester, is continuing but no charges have been laid.
The statement provided to AFP agents claims that Ms Whitehead encouraged Mr Ali to travel to Somalia and become a jihadist.
"Aisha knew and encouraged Ahmed to go to Somalia and fight the Jihad," the statement says.
Ms Whitehead has rejected the claims, describing them as "untrue and totally baseless".
This comes after The Australian revealed last week that the AFP had widened its investigation into Somali community figures over suspicions they are encouraging dozens of young men to return to their homeland to join Islamic jihadis.
It was also revealed that a second Somali Australian, Hossein Hashi Farah, was suspected by federal agents to have returned to Somalia six months ago to fight with Islamic jihadis.
But Mr Farah's family rejected the allegations, saying he was working as a sales manager in African regions outside of Somalia.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in January that Mr Ali, 26, had died in Somalia. But The Australian revealed in October his mother had been told by a relative in Somalia that he was alive and working as an interpreter with al-Qa'ida.
It was also revealed last week that Mr Ali was spotted by relatives about two weeks ago on the outskirts of the Somali capital, Mogadishu.
Sources have told The Australian the AFP has predominantly relied on reports from Australian embassy officials in Nairobi in relation to Mr Ali's suspected whereabouts.
But the AFP has not sent an agent to Somalia to investigate despite having a liaison officer in Pretoria, South Africa.
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