SYDNEY – An Egyptian asylum seeker wanted by Interpol was able to evade the attention of Australian authorities due to a reduction of security screening amid a record boat influx, officials said Thursday.
The man, a member of the extremist group Egyptian Islamic Jihad, lived in rural Australia in a minimum security immigration facility for almost a year before he was moved to Sydney’s secure Villawood detention center.
His case sparked controversy when it came to light earlier this week. David Irvine, head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, was grilled on the matter in Parliament on Thursday. Irvine said the man was cleared for community detention after a brief security assessment under a new system launched in response to a record influx of asylum seekers — likely to top 25,000 in the year to June 30.
“We thought either he was someone else or he wasn’t registered in what I’ll call our holdings,” Irvine told the Senate. “We also subsequently checked his name on an alert (wanted) list and were told by the country that put him on the list it wasn’t the same person.”
Instead of conducting blanket checks, Irvine said only 10 to 15 percent of boat arrivals deemed likely to be refugees are now subject to full security review, a situation opposition lawmakers labeled shocking.
“What has been revealed today is a national security scandal,” said opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison.
Deputy police Chief Peter Drennan said the man was convicted by an Egyptian military tribunal in 1999 of membership of a terrorist group, premeditated murder, destruction of property and weapons and explosives charges.
Egypt later confirmed that he was, in fact, the man on Interpol’s wanted list.
The opposition, on track to win the Sept. 14 national elections based on opinion polls, has condemned the situation, saying a convicted extremist had essentially been “a (swimming) pool fence away from freedom.”