Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sally Neighbour :Terror kingpin escapes retribution

IT is almost seven years since Australian cameraman Paul Moran was killed by a suicide bomber in northern Iraq while covering the first days of the 2003 Iraq war. He left behind a grieving widow and a baby daughter, born only seven weeks before his death.

In those seven years there has been no investigation into Moran's death.

The founder and trainer of the terrorist group responsible for his murder has been living freely in Norway as a political refugee while continuing to advocate the killing of Western infidels, including Australians. He has not been investigated by Australian authorities nor any attempt made to interview him.

Now, prompted by the Australian Federal Police decision to launch a war-crimes investigation into the 1975 murder of five Australian journalists in East Timor, Moran's ABC colleagues are pushing to have his killers brought to justice.

"`Why has there been no investigation into the murder?" asks Mark Corcoran, presenter and veteran reporter with ABC TV's Foreign Correspondent program. "As of December 2009, I have still not seen any evidence of an investigation, either formally or informally, by any Australian official."

Corcoran had never met Moran, a 39-year-old freelancer from Adelaide who got his first TV break as a camera operator on Here's Humphrey, but clearly feels a personal responsibility to ensure he is not forgotten.

"Moran was murdered in 2003.

Mullah Krekar, the terrorist leader who created the suicide bomber unit that killed Moran, is alive and well. He is living in Norway and taunting the Australian government to come and get him. Yet Canberra does nothing," Corcoran says.

His frustration is echoed by Campbell, who suffered shrapnel injuries, permanent hearing loss and post-traumatic stress disorder after the bombing.

"If there's a chance this guy can be prosecuted for the murder of an Australian abroad, he should be prosecuted. There's a far more pressing need for this than for the Balibo five, which happened 34 years ago," Campbell says. "This was six years ago, in a war that's still going on. And it involves the international jihadist movement which is targeting Australians right now."

The bombing that killed Moran was carried out by Ansar al-Islam, a militant group fighting for an Islamic state in the northern Kurdish region of Iraq. Its responsibility for the killing was later confirmed by the group's founder and former leader, an Iraqi national, Najmuddin Faraj Ahmad, widely known as Mullah Krekar. In 2007, Corcoran tracked Krekar down in Oslo, where he boasted about the suicide squad he established which killed Moran.

"There's no difference between suicide bombs and using Kalashnikov," Krekar said. "What's the difference, when you send the fighters to death, what's the difference between someone who uses only on-off [switch] or someone who use his finger -- what's the difference? It's the same."

When Corcoran asked him what he would say to Moran's widow and daughter, he replied: "`I say to all the Western women, don't send your sons to kill us."

To Krekar, the fact that Moran was a cameraman, not a soldier, made no difference. "He was also with our enemy . . . In this area it is allowed for me in Islam to kill [a soldier], to kill his translator, to kill the people which give him food, give him water, give him medicine -- all of them is in the line of war."

Campbell says: "It's very galling when you have this guy openly gloating about Ansar al-Islam and savouring the details of Paul Moran's murder, and nothing happens."

The US and Australian authorities have amassed a wealth of evidence against Krekar, who founded Ansar al-Islam in December 2001. An ASIO assessment presented to the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security in June this year said Ansar has claimed responsibility for more than 1600 terrorist attacks in Iraq.

In February, Iraqi security forces announced the arrest of a female member of the group who was accused of training some 80 female suicide-bombers and dispatching at least 28 of them to carry out attacks.

The report says Ansar has six divisions with between 500 and 1000 members, has historical links to al-Qa'ida and has openly declared fealty to Osama bin Laden.

ASIO's assessment blaming Krekar's group squarely for Moran's death was the basis for the listing of Ansar as a terrorist organisation a week after his death, and its re-listing by the federal government this year.

"On one hand, they cite Paul Moran's murder as a reason to list Ansar al-Islam and they cite Krekar's name in the listing," says Corcoran.

"Yet they don't pursue him or even try to interview him, even though he's living openly in Norway."

Krekar claims to have relinquished command of Ansar in 2002. But in 2006, his name was added to the UN Security Council's list of individuals belonging to or associated with al-Qa'ida, and he was designated by the US Treasury Department as someone providing financial support to al-Qa'ida and/or other terrorist organisations and facilitating terrorist activity.

The designation, which froze Krekar's assets and prohibited any financial transactions by or with him, said Krekar supports "every stage of the terrorist life-cycle, from financing terrorist groups and activity to facilitating deadly attacks". US officials say Krekar established at least two sniper teams in Iraq and recruited and trained jihadist fighters.

Krekar was granted political asylum in Norway in 1991 but has continued to commute regularly to Iraq, using his Oslo sanctuary as a remote headquarters, safe haven and fundraising base. The US Treasury's report says a supposed charity Krekar founded has "sent money to [and] actively recruited European citizens into terrorist organisations". Krekar's immigration status in Norway was revoked after the authorities there learned of his repeated trips to Iraq, and in 2007 he lost an appeal against deportation in the Supreme Court of Norway.

But he is unlikely to ever be evicted as Norway has a firm policy of not deporting individuals to countries that use torture or have the death penalty, such as Iraq or the US. Corcoran wants him extradited to Australia.

"The AFP should launch a war crimes investigation into Krekar," Corcoran says. "This should include a thorough examination of all US, UN and Norwegian intelligence documents, including intercepts of his phone calls, email and online activity." Corcoran believes these would show that Krekar still exerts control of Ansar al-Islam, despite his denials.

The ABC has been reluctant to back its journalists in their push for a war-crimes investigation into Moran's death, although a spokesman says the ABC "would assist in any way we can if there is an inquiry".

Corcoran, who has reported from war zones for the national broadcaster for 13 years, says the ABC and other media organisationshave a responsibility to do more. He's pushing for the introduction of a protocol requiring the ABC to launch its own internal investigation into any incident in which an employee or contractor is killed or seriously injured.

"Journalists and media workers in conflict zones are increasingly viewed as soft or easy targets. Failing to respond immediately in a rigorous manner only reinforces this perception and, in my view, increases our vulnerability. Those who would consider targeting journalists and media workers need to be sent a clear message that there will be serious consequences for such actions."

His call is supported by Tony Loughran, who was head of the BBC's high-risk team from 1995 to 2003, and introduced a policy of holding an independent investigation into the death of any working BBC employee, whether in a car accident or a conflict zone.

Loughran says he was shocked to learn the ABC had not investigated Moran's death and that Australian news outlets in general do not make it their business to conduct such investigations. Loughran, who holds hostile-environment training courses for media groups including the ABC and SBS, says such investigations should be mandatory.

"Absolutely. There's a lot of issues that need to be closed off. Morally, you need it to bring closure to the family by examining exactly what occurred. And there are a lot of lessons to learn. For organisations like the ABC it's very important to have all this stuff documented to minimise the risk of it happening again."

This week the journalists' union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, took up Corcoran's call and wrote to the Attorney-General asking him to refer Moran's death to the AFP for investigation. "It's clearly a war crime," says MEAA federal secretary Chris Warren, who is also on the executive of the International Federation of Journalists. "A deliberate attack on a journalist is a breach of the Geneva Conventions. In Paul Moran's case it's pretty clear that a case can be made, and the AFP should act."

Eric Campbell has urged the federal government to take the request seriously, saying Krekar's 2007 declaration that Australians are legitimate targets proves he still poses a threat to Australians abroad. "The Australian government should be very concerned about that and should bring him to account."

Sally Neighbour is a senior contributor to The Australian, a reporter for ABC's Four Corners and author of The Mother of Mohammed.

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