Australia drops charge against suspected Kurdish militant

AP News
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Posted: Feb 09, 2016 8:06 PM

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The government has dropped a charge against an Australian man accused of preparing to fight with Kurdish militants against the Islamic State movement.

Jamie Williams, 28, was stopped by customs agents as he was boarding a flight to Qatar at Melbourne airport in December 2014 after military-style equipment and clothing were allegedly found in his luggage. He was charged with preparing for an incursion into a foreign country for the purpose of engaging in hostile activities.

Attorney-General George Brandis said in a statement Wednesday that he had decided that prosecutors should drop the charge. He did not explain why he declined to give the consent needed for the prosecution to proceed.

"In considering giving his consent, the Attorney-General has a broad discretion and is able to take into account a number of factors," Brandis' office said in a statement, without elaborating.

Williams walked free from the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Tuesday after prosecutors withdrew the charge. He had faced a potential life prison sentence if convicted.

Australian Federal Police say they will continue to pursue foreign incursion cases, regardless of whether a suspect is for or against the Islamic State movement.

Two Australians were questioned by police on arrival at Australian airports in April and December last year over suspected involvement with Kurdish militias in Syria. Neither was charged. A third Australian, Reece Harding, 23, died in June when he stepped on a land mine in Syria where he had been fighting with Kurdish forces.

An Australian nurse was charged in July with supporting a terrorist group. Adam Brookman, 39, had voluntarily returned to Australia from Turkey after he said he was forced by Islamic State militants to work as a medic in Syria.

Secret service boss Duncan Lewis, director general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, told a Senate committee on Tuesday that 110 Australians were fighting with "terrorist groups" in Iraq and Syria. At least 45 Australians had been killed in the conflict, he said. About 190 people in Australia supported extremists in Syria and Iraq through fundraising or attempting to join these groups in the Middle East.

About 40 Australians have returned from the conflict. Most were involved in the Syrian civil war before the Islamic State movement became involved, he said. Charges are rare because of a lack of evidence.