THE leader of an Islamic group at the centre of anti-terror raids has returned from overseas to resume his hardline preaching in Melbourne.
Harun Mehicevic, also known as Abu Talha, returned from Bosnia late last month and is again extolling the virtues of jihad at the Al-Furqan Islamic Information Centre in Springvale South.
The Australian Federal Police raided the centre and Mr Mehicevic’s home in September during an operation that focused on 12 properties, most of them in Melbourne’s south-east. Mr Mehicevic was in Bosnia at the time.
As a result of the raids, Adnan Karabegovic, 23, was charged with four counts of collecting documents in connection with the preparation of a terrorist act. The maximum penalty for the offence is 15 years’ jail.
The raids led to the seizure of items including a computer memory stick containing ”violent extremist materials”, as well as imitation firearms and registered guns.
Speaking from the driveway of a flat in Springvale South, Mr Mehicevic said he had been silent since the raids because he felt nothing could be gained from speaking while the Al-Furqan centre was being criticised.
”With all the hype of raids and everything, you get no benefit of talking,” he said. ”You wait for everything to settle down.”
Mr Mehicevic said he was angry that he had been described as the leader of a religious cult, but would wait until after the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha, which was held on the last weekend in October, before deciding whether to discuss the raids in detail. He wrote in an email that the centre had ”decided to keep identical line related to media. Without engagement at all.”
Mr Mehicevic is a controversial figure within the Muslim community. The imam of the nearby Bosnian mosque in Noble Park, Ibrahim Omerdic, said Mehicevic had led a group of ”radical followers” away from the Noble Park mosque about 10 years ago.
Another community source who also spoke of Mr Mehicevic soon after the raids said he was not well respected in Melbourne’s Islamic community.
Mr Mehicevic said reports about his past and a protest outside the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne had made him wary of the media. He said some aspects of his history had been reported accurately, but he would not elaborate. Fairfax reported after the raids that sources said he had come to Australia from Bosnia as a young adult in the mid-1990s, and that he had a Pakistani-born wife and six children. Mr Mehicevic studied arts at Deakin University and possibly gained a diploma in teaching.
He turned to a conservative form of Islam known as Salafism, became a follower of hardline Melbourne cleric Sheikh Mohammed Omran, and associated with Abdul Nacer Benbrika, who is serving 15-years’ jail for planning a terrorist attack in Melbourne in 2005. When Benbrika split from Omran, Mr Mehicevic remained loyal to the senior cleric.
He said any interview to be conducted after Eid al-Adha would need to be conducted on his terms. ”Whatever we say to you is to be recorded and made to fit what we have said.”
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