Australian terror suspect claimes innocence

Australian man who had trained with the Taliban out of curiosity and got trapped in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States became the first suspect to have his movements restricted by the new counterterrorism law, AP reports.

In an exclusive interview broadcast Wednesday, Muslim convert Joseph Thomas, nicknamed "Jihad Jack" by Australian media, told Seven Network TV that curiosity led him to Afghanistan, where he had seven months of weapons training before the attacks.

"It was a Taliban training camp. That was where the Taliban took soldiers to fight the Northern Alliance," said Thomas, 33.

By the time of the attacks he'd "had enough," he said.

"I'd seen, I'd ... done what I needed to do to fulfill my - curiosity killed the cat, I guess - but we'd packed up, ready to leave, and then two airplanes hit the buildings in New York," he said. "I was trapped and basically stranded."

A Victoria state court in February convicted Thomas of accepting US$3,500 (2,936 euro) and a plane ticket to Australia from an al-Qaida agent in Pakistan, and of having a false passport. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

But he was freed this month when an appeal court ruled that a jury shouldn't have heard evidence that helped convict him, including a confession he made to Australian police while he was in a Pakistani prison.

Thomas on Monday became the first person in Australia subjected to an interim control order issued by a magistrate under new terror laws that took effect in December.

The order places him under an overnight curfew and restricts his use of telecommunications.

His lawyers have vowed to fight the order and will appear before a federal magistrate in the national capital, Canberra, for a preliminary hearing Thursday, and again on Friday, when police will ask for the order to be extended for up to 12 months.

Thomas said he had done nothing wrong. He also suggested that another Australian, David Hicks - an alleged Taliban fighter held by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay - was a patriot.

"We'd be the first type of people who'd be in the front to defend our country," Thomas said.

Hicks, 31, was arrested in Afghanistan in December 2001. A U.S. military commission has charged him with attempted murder, conspiracy to commit war crimes and aiding the enemy. But the charges were quashed when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that military commissions were illegal.

However, Hicks remains in Guantanamo Bay as the U.S. is preparing fresh charges against him.

Australia's control orders were part of a raft of legal reforms introduced in response to the London transport bombings in July last year that killed 57 people.

Civil libertarians have condemned the measures as draconian.

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