A man from Sydney’s west has been charged with foreign incursion offences after police raided a home near Bankstown on Tuesday morning.
Belal Betka, 25, from Mount Lewis, allegedly travelled to the conflict zone in Syria in March 2015 before returning to Australia seven months later.
He is accused of aligning with the so-called Islamic State, and to have been in its defacto capital of al-Raqqa.
Mr Betka has been investigated by police since his return to Australia in October 2015, according to a joint statement by NSW Police and Australian Federal Police.
On Tuesday, he was arrested by the Joint Counter Terrorism Team and charged with incursion into foreign countries with the intention of engaging in hostile activities, which carries a maximum penalty of life behind bars.
He is the first person based in Australia to be charged with such an offence, according to police.
Mr Betka has also been charged with entering/remaining in a declared area, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment, and dealing in proceeds of crime in excess of $1 million.
He will face Bankstown Local Court tomorrow.
Mr Betka is not one of the most renowned people alleged to be an Australian foreign fighter. However, his alleged activities were nonetheless regarded as significant by Australian authorities.
The Joint Counter Terrorism Team ??? made up of NSW Police, AFP, ASIO, and the NSW Crime Commission ??? said there is no “current or impending threat” to the community.
AFP acting Assistant Commissioner Jennifer Hurst said the arrest was “the culmination of long-term surveillance, intelligence, and protracted evidence-gathering”.
“This has been a long painstaking process, putting the pieces of the puzzle together to turn intelligence into evidence,” she said.
“Keeping the community safe from anyone that may seek to cause Australians harm is the key role of the JCTT.”
NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Mick Willing said it’s illegal to fight for a terrorist organisation, and anyone who thinks they can “needs to reconsider that position”.
“The public can be reassured that all law enforcement agencies, at state and national level, work tirelessly to ensure the safety of the community,” Assistant Commissioner Willing said.
Both police agencies urged anyone with information to phone the National Security Hotline on 1800 123 400.
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