'Jihad Jack' acquitted of funding charge

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’s 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 September 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 organisation 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 US military camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in earlier questioning by US and Pakistani authorities.

After he was freed, prosecutors argued that new evidence – contained in post-trial media interviews, in which Thomas talked about bin Laden – had emerged in the case and that Thomas should be retried.

The jury in the second trial on Thursday found Thomas innocent of receiving funds from a terrorist organisation but guilty of the passport charge. He was released on bail and required to return to court next week for a pre-sentence hearing.

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