Aussie terrorist: ‘I was used by IS’
TERRORIST Neil Prakash has claimed Islamic State forced him to take part in propaganda videos and recruit members because he was Australian.
In his first detailed public statements on how he came to be involved with the terror group in Syria, Prakash claimed in a Turkish court he was "used for publicity'' by Islamic State.
He denied taking up arms during his time in Syria and Iraq, and said he had been forced to record recruitment videos and pose for photographs with a Kalashnikov weapon.
"I went there, they saw where I was from and my background so they wanted to use me for publicity and that was about it,'' the Melbourne-born 27-year-old told the Kilis Criminal Court.
He is facing local terrorism charges of committing crimes against the state of Turkey by being a member of a terrorist organisation, which carries a penalty of between 7.5 years and 15 years' jail.
"They (Islamic State) used me for publicity," Prakash said.
He told the court that he had joined Islamic State after they approached him while he was in Azaz, in Syria.
He had been a member of the extremist group Ahrar u-sham, but changed to Islamic State after they told him they "had some Australians who spoke my language.''
"I didn't know much about the group (Islamic State) at the time.''
He repeated his earlier claims that while he was a member of Islamic State, he had been a "new Muslim'' and didn't understand how Islamic State operated.
He went to Syria, he said, because the "people were in trouble'' and "people were being bombed'' and he wanted to help.
He said he realised Islamic State were "not on the right path.''
"Yes I was a member, but a very regretful member,'' Prakash said.
He admitted he had tried to recruit new members for Islamic State.
Asked by the court if he had encouraged people from Australia to join the jihad in Syria, he replied: "They forced me to make (the videos), forced me to tell people to come.''
He said he had been trying to flee Syria to escape Islamic State, when he was captured on the Turkish-Syrian border in October 2016.
He was accompanied by a Bangladeshi woman and a Somalian woman who were the wives of a man from Ahrar-u-sham. "I wanted to escape ISIS because they wanted to kill me,'' he said.
Asked by the court why they would want to kill him, a member of their own organisation, he replied: "Because they found out I did not want to be a member anymore and I knew about how they worked.''
The court in July rejected a bid by the Australian Government to have Prakash extradited to Australia to face charges relating to his prolific recruiting and propaganda role with Islamic State.
Prakash also urged terror attacks and was in touch with a number of terrorists in Australia, the US and the UK. He was told last night that he would remain in prison for some time, and was urged to take advantage of the possible sentence discounts available under Turkish laws of "effective remorse'' by providing written statements on what he knows about Islamic State, its
leadership and his contacts there. He again denied knowing anything about the group's management.
Prakash detailed how he ended up in Syria, saying he arrived in Istanbul in Turkey in October 2013, caught a bus to Hatay, in Turkey's east, then a bus to Reyhanli, near the Syrian border, before crossing into Syria.
He said he spent time in Idlib, then Raqqa, both in Syria, before moving to Mosul in Iraq.
News Corp has previously revealed details of Prakash's interrogation, where he told investigating officers he had taken up arms against Kurdish fighters the PKK in Kobane.
He retracted those comments in court last night, saying he had made those comments at a time when he was using false identification.
Prakash also outlined some details of his time with Islamic State, saying he was not paid a salary during his three years with the group. He said they called him ''Abu Khaled'' and "everyone has to have a nickname.''
He also said he underwent compulsory religious training while with Islamic State.
The case was adjourned until December 20 while the court conducts further research into his online activity, and the two women he crossed into Turkey with.
The judge Harun Ceyhan asked Australian consular officials observing in the courtroom to confirm Prakash remained an Australian citizen, which they confirmed.
His state-appointed defence lawyer Resat Devran said outside the court he would appeal to the court in Gaziantep for Prakash to be released on bail as he had now been detained for almost two years.
Asked why Prakash, who refused to provide details to the court in the previous extradition hearing, had decided to make a statement, he said: "maybe after spending so much time in jail he might be starting to think if he talks it will be better for him.''
"As a lawyer my main aim is to get him released if I can, but if I can't, I would ask for the minimum penalty he will receive," Mr Devran continued.
"If he testifies about ISIS and he's being co-operative he could have the minimum penalty.''
Additional reporting: Engin Bas