Trained Australian Fighter Captured with the Taliban

Published December 12th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

A 26-year-old Australian trained in guerrilla warfare by Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network has been captured fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan, Australian officials said Wednesday. 

The 26-year-old, named by news reports Wednesday night as David Hicks from Adelaide, was captured by Northern Alliance troops in Afghanistan on or around December 9, the federal government said Wednesday. 

Attorney-General Daryl Williams said Canberra had been advised the man was in good health, but would not disclose where he was being detained and said his identity was being withheld to protect his family. 

But the Channel Seven television network said three years ago, a David Hicks had approached the network wanting to sell a story about fighting as a mercenary in South Africa or Afghanistan. 

And an Adelaide man who claimed to know Hicks indicated the Australian was serving as a mercenary rather than someone committed to a cause. 

"I think he was just more in it for the money and the excitement," the man, identified only as Nick, told Channel Ten TV. 

The Australian, shown posing with Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) colleagues with a bazooka on his shoulder, had seen action in Kosovo. 

"He had gone though six weeks basic training, he'd been in the trenches, he'd killed a few people, you know ... confirmed kills, and had a few of his mates killed as well," Nick said. 

While his immediate fate was unknown, there was speculation Hicks could be held in a US detention camp with American Muslim convert John Walker, the only other westerner so far caught fighting with the Taliban. 

Walker, 20, who had changed his name to Abdul Hamid after converting to Islam at 16, is now in the custody of US authorities, who have yet to decide what to do with him. 

After fighting alongside ethnic Albanian forces in the KLA against Serbia, the Australian travelled in November 1999 to Pakistan, where Williams said he trained with Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant group active in Kashmir. He went to Afghanistan the following year. 

"What we can say is that he has undertaken more training than Mr. Walker has." 

Defence Minister Robert Hill said the government was still trying to establish the facts behind the man's arrest and it was too early to say what charges he may face. 

"I think what offences might have occurred is something that needs to be considered -- there are a lot of very complex legal questions involved," he told ABC television.  

"We are still seeking to establish the facts and that's not easy. 

"It is difficult to get information relating to the matter and I think it is premature for me therefore to draw the sort of conclusions that you're asking." 

One of the issues in question was if the man was a prisoner of war. 

"Another issue is whether there may be a breach of Australian national law, the Foreign Incursions law," Hill said. 

Under the Foreign Incursions law, part of the Crimes Act, Australian citizens face prison sentences of up to 14 years for entering a foreign state and engaging in a hostile activity. 

"These issues are being looked at but he was only captured a few days ago and it is difficult to ascertain all of the facts," Hill added. 

Legal experts said the man could face murder charges in the US if he was linked to the September 11 attacks on the US. 

University of Melbourne lecturer Gillian Triggs said the US could have first call if he was proven to have been involved in planning the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, which killed about 3,300 people. 

Australian National University international law expert Chris Reus-Smit said the man could also be open to charges of crimes against humanity under international war crimes laws. 

The capture of the Australian followed the arrest in Bombay of an Indian-born Muslim who claimed there were plans to launch terrorist attacks in Australia to coincide with the September 11 attacks in the United States for which bin Laden is blamed. 

But Williams said there was no information to suggest the man had planned any terrorist attacks in Australia -- AFP

© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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