A radicalised ISIS member had plans to target Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral and the American embassy for terror attacks and “to conquer” a rural town like Orange, a court has been told.
Isaac El Matari also spoke of travelling to Afghanistan to fight on the frontline with the aim of supporting ISIS.
The 22-year-old, who was arrested in July 2019, faced a sentencing hearing in the NSW Supreme Court on Tuesday.
He has pleaded guilty to doing an act in preparation and planning for a terrorist act in Australia on behalf of IS between July 2018 and September 2019.
He also admitted preparing to enter Afghanistan via Pakistan with the intention of engaging in hostile activities.
And he admitted being a member of IS between January and September 2019.
Jailed in Lebanon
Prosecutor Sophie Callan SC said El Matari left Australia when he was 18 but was arrested in 2017 and incarcerated in Lebanon for seeking to join Islamic State in Syria.
But this did not deter him and after his return to Sydney in June 2018, the depth and extent of his radicalisation continued up until his arrest.
He was involved in a number of communications and other activities, including “rehearsing speeches and instructions”, which reflected planning to conduct attacks in Australia on behalf of IS.
Citing the agreed statement of facts, she said he discussed with others his plans such as insurgency in rural Australia, referring to the landscape and population.
He mentioned specific targets including the American embassy, St Mary’s Cathedral and referred to “conquering a small town or village”, naming Orange.
He also referred to “places of political significance, business, consulates, police stations, courts, the NSW library”.
They were places open to the public and “no security protecting them” he was recorded as saying.
“Going and taking and causing casualties in Holsworthy barracks in Campbelltown will make international news,” he said.
“I know what targets will make people scared …. and targets will convey our message.”
For months he did acts in preparation for a terror attack in Australia, including referring to obtaining firearms, explosive devices and tactical clothing.
His barrister Matt Johnstone submitted the so-called plan for insurgency in Australia was abandoned at an early stage.
But Callan said conversations showed this was due to a lack of commitment by others, not him.
El Matari also spoke of travelling to Afghanistan’s Khorasan province via Pakistan to engage with ISIS in its armed hostile activities.
Johnstone acknowledged the group in that area, known as ISIS-KP, had an extreme ideology, while Callan noted they had claimed responsibility for the fatal bomb at the Kabul airport days ago.
Johnstone said his client’s view about what he would do in Afghanistan was little more than “fight” and there was no evidence he was imagining doing this against the coalition forces.
His intent to travel there had also involved “his broader commitment to his faith”, as distinguished from someone who went overseas to kill as a mercenary, he said.
Referring to a defence submission about El Matari having made grandiose or delusional statements, Callan said this did not undermine the genuineness of his intentions.
‘There is contrition’
Johnstone referred to his onerous conditions in jail and the effect of COVID-19 lockdowns on prisoners.
“There is contrition and a desire to change,” he said.
He also referred to El Matari suffering from PTSD as a result of being tortured in the notorious Roumieh prison in Lebanon.
Justice Peter Garling will sentence him at a later date.