Muslim ‘cleric’ arrested for sending hate mail to families of dead Australian soldiers
A self-styled Muslim cleric is facing up to 14 years in jail after he was accused of sending hate mail to the families of Australian soldiers killed fighting in Afghanistan.
By Bonnie Malkin in Sydney
3:16PM BST 22 Oct 2009
Police charged a 45-year-old man from Sydney, named in local press as Sheikh Haron, with sending “harassing and offensive letters to family members of soldiers killed whilst serving in Afghanistan.”
One letter was reportedly delivered to a grieving widow at her husband’s funeral. Another, allegedly written to the family of a commando killed in January, read: “I feel bad that you have lost your son but I don’t feel bad that a murderer of innocent civilians has lost his life.”
Mr Haron is accused of sending letters to the families of seven soldiers who died in Afghanistan, calling them “criminals”, “murderers” and “killers” who were fighting a war of invasion.
He described one of the deceased soldiers, a Jewish man, as a “1,000 times worse” than a pig and a “murderer of innocents.”
“Some people don’t eat the meat of a pig but they are dirtier than (a) pig,” Mr Haron wrote of Private Greg Sher, according to The Australian newspaper.
“What’s the point if some people don’t eat pork while their behaviour is worse than dirty animals? Why should we call a pig a hero?” he allegedly wrote.
Felix Sher, Greg’s father, said the letter deeply shocked his family.
“Anti-semitism isn’t something that is strange to us,” Mr Sher said.
“However, what really affected us was when we found out it went to people like Breanna Till, and people like that – that’s what hurts more. Why would these people be subject to such abuse?”
Miss Breanna Till, the girlfriend of Sergeant Brett Till who was killed while defusing a bomb in March, was allegedly confronted by one of Mr Haron’s supporters during Sgt Till’s funeral.
There, the supporter presented Miss Till with one of Mr Haron’s letters, the Australian reported.
After the claims of harassment and hate mail emerged, Mr Haron, reportedly an Iranian-born immigrant who describes himself as an Islamic spiritual leader, told the Sydney Daily Telegraph he was innocent and “can explain everything.”
The outspoken cleric posted scores of letters, including those to the soldiers, on a website under his name. The site has since been suspended.
Australian politicians were quick to condemn the letters.
Kevin Rudd, the prime minister, said news of the hate campaign would make “people’s stomachs turn”.
Mr Rudd also said he would consider whether Australia’s immigration laws should be changed to allow citizenship to be revoked in such cases.
“Every decent-minded Australian should be giving those families not just a thought but a prayer and their support, in any practical way, when these horrible things are brought back to their memory,” he said.
The Australian Federal Police would not comment on the matter, but said their inquiries were “ongoing”.
Australia has about 1,500 troops in Afghanistan – the ninth-largest contingent of foreign troops – and 11 of its soldiers have died there since 2001, most of them in the past 12 months.
Earlier this week John Faulkner, the defence minister, said he wanted Australian soldiers out of Afghanistan in the “shortest time frame possible”.