An Islamic center in Australia, attended by two men charged with terrorism-related offenses, announced Wednesday that it was closing its doors and ceasing all activities.
The al-Furqan Islamic Centre in southwest Melbourne said in a statement that closing down was the best course of action given the tremendous pressure from local media and politicians. Last week, Australian police arrested five teenagers in Melbourne for planning an Islamic State group-inspired attack on the Anzac Day holiday on April 25. At least two of the suspects were believed to have attended the al-Furqan center, the Guardian reported.
“This decision has not been taken lightly,” the center said, in a statement. “We believe that given the constant harassment, pressure and false accusations levelled against the centre – particularly by media and politicians – this is the best course of action for the protection of the local community, its members, and the broader Muslim community that is often implicated in these insidious campaigns.”
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Two attendees of the Islamic center, led by Bosnian-born preacher Harun Mehicevic, have been charged with conspiracy to commit terrorist acts. However, the al-Furqan center said that it was not linked in any way to the anti-terror raids on Saturday.
“We wish to clarify that there was no connection between Al-Furqan centre and these raids, and that claims to the contrary are unfounded and misleading,” the center said, in a statement on Monday.
Set up in 2001, the center was also reportedly attended by ISIS recruiter Neil Prakash, who goes by the jihadist name Abu Khaled al-Cambodi. Prakash, who is of Fijian and Cambodian descent, recently appeared in a new ISIS propaganda video, urging young Muslim men in Australia to launch attacks on home soil, The Age reported.
The al-Furqan Islamic Centre was first raided in 2012, leading to the arrest of Adnan Karabegovic, who was charged with one count of possessing "Inspire" -- a magazine published by al Qaeda -- which was “connected with assistance in a terrorist act,” The Australian reported.
“I think there’s a lot of media scrutiny around the centre,” Kuranda Seyit, a spokesman for the Islamic Council of Victoria, told The Australian. “There have been allegations that the centre is connected to the people that were raided, and we need to clarify those… I don’t think it’s fair to assume media reports are accurate.”