Australian who met Osama found innocent

October 23, 2008

An Australian man who spent time at an Al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan and who met Osama bin Laden was found innocent today of receiving funds from the terrorist group.

Joseph Thomas, a 35-year-old Muslim convert dubbed “Jihad Jack” by the Australian media, was convicted on the lesser charge of possessing a falsified passport, for which he still faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a large fine.

The jury’s verdicts marked the end of Thomas’ second trial on the charges and a five-year seesaw ride through the legal system since his arrest in Pakistan in 2003.

Thomas was arrested after leaving Afghanistan where, by his own admission, he spent time in an al-Qaida training camp and met Osama bin Laden, whom he later described as “very polite and humble and shy.”

He was returned to Australia and charged under tough anti-terrorism laws introduced as part of a security crackdown after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist strikes in the United States.

After his first trial, Thomas was sentenced in 2006 to five years in prison for receiving funds from a terrorist organization and holding a false passport. An appeal court overturned those convictions five months later, saying prosecutors had incorrectly relied on an interrogation of Thomas by Australian police in Pakistan.

Thomas’ lawyers had successfully argued the interview was tainted because he had been threatened with execution and deportation to the U.S. military camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in earlier questioning by U.S. and Pakistani authorities.

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