A former Australian Army soldier who died while fighting with the Syrian rebels against Bashar al-Assad’s forces had no known history of “radicalism”.
Caner Temel was killed in Syria in January, reportedly while fighting with the al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
It was revealed on Tuesday that Temel had served briefly with the Australian Defence Force as a sapper, or engineer, from February 2009 to July 2010, when he went absent without leave.
Temer was one of more than half a dozen Australians who travelled to the Syrian battlefield. Authorities believe these travels were organised by Hamdi al-Qudsi, a 39-year-old Sydney man charged last year for allegedly acting as a “conduit for extremists” wishing to travel to Syria.
But the head of the al Risalah Islamic Centre in Sydney’s southwest, Wissam Haddad, said Temer’s death had not been in vain. “It was self-sacrifice to lift the oppression off the oppressed. To raise the word of Allah to the highest,” Mr Haddad said.
“If you’re in the Australian army and trained your country, your people, that’s nothing different than a person who is a muhjadeen in jihad.”
Mr Haddad said there was a strong sense of obligation to help the Syrian people overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Before it was a handful of people, now it’s everybody,” he said.
However, a second Sydney Muslim, Imam Afroz Ali, said young Muslims who dreamt of jihad had unrealistic ideas about the nature of the conflict, which has devolved into internecine fighting among different rebel factions.
“It’s not about fighting Assad,” Imam Ali said. “This is about a fight for power about who’s going to rule Syria next.”
Imam Ali spent several weeks in southern Turkey last year where he said he interviewed hundreds of Syrian refugees who had poured across the northern border. He said the Australian fighters had a dubious reputation among the locals in southern Turkey, the crossover point into Syria and within Syria itself.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the government was deeply concerned for the safety of Australians travelling to fight in the Syrian war and their “radicalisation”. An arms embargo is in place and those who travel to fight in Syria are breaking the law. It is also illegal for Australians to fund, train or recruit others to fight, or supply weapons to either side of the war.