Islamic centre tied to Australian terror accused shuts down

SYDNEY (AFP) - An Islamic centre in Australia linked with several men accused of terrorism-related offences shut down on Thursday, citing harassment and "insidious campaigns" against it.

The Al-Furqan Islamic Centre in Melbourne came under increased scrutiny after five men were arrested last weekend over an alleged plot to attack Anzac Day commemorations on April 25 - when Australia honours its war dead.

Police said at the time that "Al-Furqan and a number of other centres around Australia have come to our attention".

Two of the teenagers, Sevdet Besim and Harun Causevic, have been charged with conspiring to commit a terrorist act while another faces weapons offences. The others were released pending further inquiries.

The young men were associates of Numan Haider, who was shot dead after stabbing two anti-terror police officers in September, police said. Haider had visited the Al-Furqan centre.

"This statement is to announce that, effective immediately, Al-Furqan Islamic Centre is ceasing its activities and closing its doors," the centre, run by cleric Harun Mehicevic, said in a statement on its website.

"We believe that given the constant harassment, pressure and false accusations levelled against the centre - particularly by media and politicians - this is the best course of action."

It added that shutting down was for "the protection of the local community, its members, and the broader Muslim community that is often implicated in these insidious campaigns".

After the raids on Saturday, Al-Furqan distanced itself from the men.

"We wish to clarify that there was no connection between Al-Furqan centre and these raids, and that claims to the contrary are unfounded and misleading," it said.

The Melbourne Age newspaper and other media reported that Australia's most senior Islamic State recruiter in Syria, Neil Prakash, also used to visit the centre before leaving Australia in 2013.

In a video posted online this week, Prakash, also known as Abu Khaled al-Cambodi, urged "brothers of Islam" to stage terror attacks on Australian soil, while speaking of "my dear brother Numan".

Australia raised its threat level to "high" last September and has since carried out a series of counter-terrorism raids, with alarm fuelled by the departure of more than 100 of its nationals to Iraq and Syria to fight with militants.

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