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Australian jailed for accepting al Qaeda funding

Written by: Staff
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MELBOURNE, Mar 31 (Reuters) An Australian former taxi driver who trained with al Qaeda was jailed for five years today, the first such sentencing under the country's tough new anti-terrorism laws.

Joseph Terrence Thomas was found guilty last month of receiving 3,500 dollars and a plane ticket from senior al Qaeda agent Khaled bin Attash after training with Osama bin Laden's militant network in Afghanistan in 2001.

Thomas, a 32-year-old father of three, was jailed for five years and also received a one-year sentence for possessing a false passport. The passport sentence was to be served concurrently, Supreme Court Judge Philip Cummins said.

Thomas had faced a maximum 25-year sentence over the funding charge but Australian Broadcasting Corp, radio quoted Cummins as saying that Thomas had provided invaluable help to Australian police and presented good prospects for rehabilitation.

Thomas's lawyers had argued during the trial that he had been foolish and naive and had never intended to act as a ''resource'' for al Qaeda. They said he had taken the money and plane ticket because he wanted to get home but Cummins rejected the arguments.

''Your conduct shows you were well capable of being manipulative,'' Cummins told Thomas.

Thomas, who will be eligible for parole in two years, has previously said through his lawyers that he would appeal against his conviction.

His lawyers had also argued that his case was simply a ''show trial'' to prove that the Australian government and police were working hard under anti-terrorism laws introduced not long after the September. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

''That was an unfortunate expression,'' Cummins said.

''This was no trophy trial. This court will be no part of trophy trials,'' he said.

Thomas was the first Australian to be charged with receiving funds from and providing support for al Qaeda and the fifth to face charges under the new anti-terrorism laws.

He was found not guilty of two charges he had intentionally provided support and resources to bin Laden's network.

Thomas was detained in Pakistan in 2003. He told police he had trained at an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan in mid-2001 and had seen bin Laden at close quarters several times during that period.

REUTERS PV BST1350

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