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Australia mulls fate of al Qaeda fighter

David Hicks
Australian al Qaeda fighter David Hicks, circled, pictured in Kosovo in mid-1999  

By Grant Holloway

CANBERRA, Australia -- An Australian captured with Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda group in Afghanistan may be charged under Australian law as fighting as a mercenary or for an enemy.

New Minister for Defense Robert Hill said Thursday those charges were possible, but added that it was too early to say exactly what would happen to the man.

Hill said Australian authorities were still waiting for futher information from U.S. forces on the captured man before any decision could made on his fate.

The 26-year old male, David Hicks, was captured by Northern Alliance troops on December 9 and is now being held and questioned by U.S. forces.

Hicks' father, Terry, told media Wednesday he had nicknamed his son "Indiana Jones" because he moved from job to job seeking adventure before finding Islam two years ago.

He said his son had contacted him by satellite phone two weeks after the September 11 attacks in the United States and told him he had joined the Taliban.

"All I know is he was fighting for the Taliban and he said he was off to Kabul to defend Kabul... That's when I picked myself up from the floor," Hicks told The Herald Sun newspaper on Thursday.

"He's been a handful, a rebel, but not a troublemaker. He's got a bit of hot blood running through his veins," his father said.

"The idea that he's high up in the al Qaeda network is rubbish," Hicks' father said.

"We don't support him on the fact he was fighting but I support him as my son. I just hope he survives ... I'd like to see him again. I still love him."

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Hicks set off from Australia in mid-1999 for Europe. While there he joined the Kosovo Liberation Front and first encountered Islam.

After a brief stint back in Adelaide to study at an Islamic college, he converted to Islam, adopting the name Mohammed Dawood.

The Australian government said Hicks moved to Pakistan in November 1999 and trained with the Lashkar-e-Taiba, one of dozens of Islamic groups fighting to wrest control of the privonce of Kashmir from India.

He then moved to Afghanistan last year and trained with bin Laden's network.

Hicks is most likely now being held in a detention facility built by U.S. Marines at the Camp Rhino base in Afghanistan.

The only person currently being held at the base is John Walker, the 20-year-old American who was captured fighting for the Taliban in northern Afghanistan.

Australia's Attorney-General Daryl Williams said Wednesday that Hick's capture raises a range of legal questions.

Possible charges being discussed by Australian legal experts include treason, a crime which still theoretically carries a death penalty in Australia.

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Such an outcome is highly unlikely. The last person to be executed in Australia was Ronald Ryan, for murder, back in 1967.

Hicks has no known criminal record and had "not previously come to notice" with Australian security organizations.

He has, however, been intimately involved with the al Qaeda network, according to Williams.

"What we can say is that he has undertaken more training than Mr. Walker has," Williams told radio listeners Wednesday.

Last week it was revealed that a man arrested in India had confessed to a plot to attack targets outside of the United States, including Australia's tallest building, the Rialto Towers in Melbourne.

Australian and Indian authorities are taking the confession seriously, especially after it was revealed the man underwent pilot training at an aviation school in Australia.

Australia was one of the first nations to offer military assistance to the U.S. following the September 11 terror attacks.

About 150 of Australia's Special Air Services troops are now deployed on the frontlines in Afghanistan.

In total, Australia has committed more than 1,500 military personnel to the coalition response as well as navy frigates, a transport ship with air defense, long-range maritime patrol aircraft, tanker aircraft and F/A-18 fighter aircraft.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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