Counterterrorism police have arrested Arsalan Khawaja, the brother of Australian Test cricketer Usman Khawaja, in relation to a list found in an office at the University of NSW in August containing plans to kill Australian politicians, including the then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, Julie Bishop and Bronwyn Bishop.
The 39-year-old was arrested at his Westmead home in western Sydney this morning as part of the ongoing investigation into who was responsible for the alleged plot outlined in the notebook.
While it sent shockwaves through Sydney and academic circles at the time, it now appears the terror plot was a fake.
“The arrest relates to documents allegedly found on University of NSW grounds in August this year containing plans to facilitate terrorism attacks,” police said.
The man is being questioned “in relation to the alleged attempt to pervert justice, and forgery – making a false document”.
On August 31, police arrested and charged a 25-year-old Sri Lankan postgraduate student, Mohamed Kamer Nizamdeen, after a colleague found the notebook in his university office.
He was accused of allegedly planning to attack “symbolic” people and Sydney landmarks, including the Opera House, as part of an “ISIS-affiliated” terror plot.
The IT business analyst and PhD student, considered a shining star of university academia, had previously collaborated with police on an app to integrate with Australian life.
But unfortunately for police and counterterrorism agents, they had the wrong man.
On October 24, when the matter was listed for mention at Sydney’s Central Local Court, police dropped the charges, saying they had “definitive” advice from handwriting experts that concluded the Sri Lankan was not the author due to “irregularities” between his handwriting and what had been written in the notebook.
The student spent a month in Goulburn’s supermax prison before being released on bail on September 28.
His lawyer, Moustafa Kheir, said what happened to his client was “absolutely unforgivable” and was taking legal action to recoup costs.
At a media conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka, last month after he returned home, Kamer named Khawaja as a person of interest, claiming he was one of his supervisors at UNSW.
NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Mick Willing, head of the Counter Terrorism and Special Tactics Command, said at the time the charges were dropped, that “as more evidence was gathered that contradicted the initial material and information we received, we acted appropriately and informed the court process via the prosecutors.”
He defended the decision to arrest and charge the student saying: “The very nature of these type of offences means that sometimes we need to intervene early.”
The NSW Joint Counter Terrorism Team then began investigating who was responsible for the notebook.
Assistant Commissioner Willing declined to apologise to the student saying whoever was responsible for the notebook’s contents was to blame.
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