Shocking arrest of popular Sri Lankan PhD student in Australia



By M M Zuhair PC


It is too early to comment on the detention of 25 year old Kamer Nizamdeen, a popular PhD student affiliated to the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia as the matter is under investigation by the NSW Joint Counter Terrorism Team. His arrest on accusations of planning terror attacks has shocked almost everyone in the University and back at home in Sri Lanka as his life in Sydney was a story of successes with robust achievements, respected and admired.


It is bewildering that such a man could suddenly get ‘radicalised’ almost overnight as widely publicised worldwide without any evidence of any extremist comment being heard from him at any time by any of his colleagues. It is well known that a radicalised person cannot hide his views though he can hide his conduct and activities. How is it that there is no independent corroboration from his associates or his closest circle in the university that Kamer was no longer the same man they knew?


The only evidence known so far on which he was arrested on Thursday 30th August was a notebook allegedly containing references to former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, references to Sydney Opera House, police and railway stations allegedly found in his room. Though the exact wordings are not in any media, the PhD student will have to explain what the notebook contents were all about. We do not know his version because we have not heard the police or the media quoting Kamer in their reports. It is difficult to believe that in a country where seven prime ministers were displaced in ten years and the last one Malcolm Turnbull was ousted by his own party colleagues on 24th August 2018, the Sri Lankan student could have had any ideological or religious reason to ‘terrorise’ Turnbull. There is no evidence that he had plans to terrorise the former Prime Minister or former Foreign Minister at any time they held office.


Kamer was no simpleton; he was a bright, well-integrated PhD student and staffer at the UNSW. It is mind-boggling as to how his alleged ‘terrorism manifesto’ would be carelessly left in the open space of his shared room in the university premises for someone else to so easily ‘stumble upon’.


Kamer’s brother, in a Facebook Post on Monday 3rd September, has expressed the view that his brother was framed. "His accomplishments within the university in UNSW speak for themselves and he would have had absolutely no reason to engage in such disgusting, hateful crimes to a city which has been extremely opening to him for the past 6 years," the brother wrote.


Sally Rowsthorne reporting to The Sydney Morning Herald of Friday 31st August says "those who knew the Sri Lankan postgraduate student were in shock after the arrest with multiple friends and neighbours saying that they wouldn’t believe what Mr Nizamdeen is accused of doing". ABC also quoted the police saying that they do not believe that Kamer was capable of carrying out a terrorist attack.


Except for the contents of the notebook which are also capable of innocent explanations there does not appear in the media any evidence of any previous expressions of opinion or conduct on Kamer’s part that would support the serious allegations made against this up and coming talented youth, whose future is on the brink of ruination. But then the investigations are ongoing, we need to wait. However what is clear to me is that additional evidence notwithstanding, the sum total of the material against Kamer do not amount to even an attempt or a conspiracy to commit an offence known to the law as applied in countries which have not embraced oppressive Counter Terrorism laws or the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Law. Jotting down one’s views in a notebook cannot by itself constitute an act of terror.


There must be evidence of actual preparation or an engagement or assistance to commit a terrorist act, which appears to be lacking in this case. The reported facts as distinguished from speculatory comments, such as alleged membership in the ISIS, do not appear to qualify as a terrorist or attempted terrorist act under Australia’s Criminal Code Act of 1995 or under terror laws applicable in the New South Wales. Membership in ISIS itself is however, an independent terror related offence. There is no evidence of any "intimidation to advance a political, religious or ideological cause and the act causes", the way a terrorist act is defined in the Australian Act. The phrase "and the act causes" would necessitate the act of intimidation causing actual ‘intimidation’, often ignored by investigators who probably want to demonstrate their ‘smart detection’ to their superiors! But Australia as a country maintains a high standard of judicially supervised investigative mechanism. It is possible that he would be and should be cleared of the accusations, subject however to some extraordinary but unlikely links with a terrorist organisation being discovered or due to some external pressure from racist entities.


Dinoo Kelleghan in Sydney writing to The Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) of 2nd September 2018 has made reference to highly speculative comments spicing the story which are unsupported by evidence. One example is that Kamer "acted as a lone wolf using his campus activities as a cover" which earned a sub-title in The Sunday Times, leading to a permanent damage to a man who had ‘networked into the university where he studied, worked and mentored students, and through projects that brought him plaudits by UNSW.’ Kelleghan reported further as follows: "Police say the PhD student is affiliated with the IS but are not charging him with being a member of the terrorist organisation." But NSW Acting Detective Superintendent Mick Sheehy is quoted in the next sentence as having said, "From the documentation we believe he would affiliate with the ISIS". One will easily see the propaganda hype to make the suspect appear to be linked to ISIS, the earlier one claiming Kamer is affiliated with the IS while the subsequent one stating that ‘he would affiliate’ with the ISIS.


Kamer Nizamdeen had no previous criminal records prior to 30th August. But were the police rushed into arresting Kamer with such weak allegations possibly by external elements? NSW’s Surveillance Device Act of 2007 and other terrorist related laws permit the police to conduct surveillance to establish more sound and credible material against possible real terror suspects. Why was he not monitored at least for a few more days, which smart investigators often do before rushing to arrest? What was the urgency? Did the elements that may have pushed the police to arrest the Sri Lankan forthwith have an agenda to create a realistic impact on the then ongoing Defence Seminar in Colombo, which commenced here on Thursday 30th August? Day Two of the Defence Seminar on Friday 31st August morning session had two relevant presentations to the subject under discussion in this article. One by Lt. Gen.(Retd) Orit Adalo, managing director of Adalo Consulting Ltd of Israel on ‘Ideological Polarisation’ and the other by Maj. Gen. Roger J Noble, United States Army Pacific, Australia on ‘Role of the military in Response to Violent Non-State Actors in a Destabilised International System’. Space constraints do not permit a detailed discussion, which may be written off by some as conspiracy theories. The news of Kamer’s arrest however hit the news media here only at the conclusion of the two day Colombo Defence Seminar, perhaps a little too late. (The writer is a former Senior State Counsel and can be reached on mm_zuhair@yahoo.com)


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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