New Zealand man found guilty by Australian court of trying to fight in Syria

MELBOURNE (AFP) - A New Zealand man could spend up to three decades behind bars after he was found guilty by an Australian court on Tuesday (Oct 13) of trying to travel to the Middle East to fight in the Syrian conflict.

Amin Mohamed, 25, was convicted by a Victoria Supreme Court jury of three charges of preparing to enter a foreign state to engage in hostile activities.

Experts believe he is the first person in Australia to be found guilty of attempting to fight in Syria on foreign incursions offences. Each charge carries a maximum 10 years' imprisonment.

Foreign incursions offences have been updated as part of new counter-terrorism laws introduced last year aimed at blocking militants going overseas to fight. It is now a crime to fight for militants on either side of the Middle East conflict.

The government is increasingly concerned about the flow of fighters to Iraq and Syria to join extremist groups such as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), with some 120 Australians already in the region.

Canberra has also cancelled passports and prevented a number of people from leaving the country on fears they were heading to the Middle East to join ISIS.

The court heard that Mohamed, an Australian resident who was living in Melbourne, was stopped at Brisbane Airport in September 2013 where he told the authorities that he planned to travel to Turkey en route to visiting his fiancée in Denmark, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

The prosecution's case was based on phone calls intercepted by police between Mohamed and an alleged Sydney-based recruiter that detailed his plans to travel to Syria to fight against the Assad regime, Melbourne's The Age newspaper added.

It was not reported which armed group Mohamed planned to join. He is due back in court for a pre-sentence hearing on Dec 1.

Another Melbourne man, Hassan El Sabsabi, last month pleaded guilty to two charges of sending money to a man travelling to fight with militant group Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria.

A handful of other men have been convicted of foreign incursion offences since they were introduced in 1978 - for supporting groups opposed to governments in Cameroon, Comoros Islands, Indonesia, the Seychelles and the former Yugoslavia.