The federal government has cancelled the citizenship of Abdul Nacer Benbrika, one of Australia’s most notorious terrorists, before his expected release from a Victorian prison.
Benbrika was jailed for 12 years in 2008 for his role in a plot to attack a number of targets in Victoria and New South Wales.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton confirmed the government had now revoked Benbrika’s Australian citizenship.
“I cancelled the Australian citizenship of convicted terrorist Benbrika, [making him] the first individual to have lost citizenship onshore,” he said.
“He has been notified of the citizenship loss and he will remain in prison while an interim detention order is in place.”
Last year, intelligence authorities raised concerns with the government’s powers, saying that stripping convicted or suspected terrorists of their citizenship could have unintended consequences.
But Mr Dutton said the government was doing what it thought was “appropriate” to protect Australians from the danger posed by Benbrika.
“In this instance, he spoke about thousands and thousands of Australians being killed, that’s what he advocated for at the time,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter who it is; if it’s a person who’s posing a significant terrorist threat to our country, then we’ll do whatever is possible within Australian law to protect Australians.
“That remains our priority.”
The ABC contacted Benbrika’s lawyer, who said it was not appropriate for him to comment on the matter “outside the court context”.
Benbrika was arrested, along with 16 other men, in 2005 and charged with various offences.
Benbrika was convicted of intentionally being a member of a terrorist organisation and intentionally directing the activities of a terrorist organisation.
The government is currently trying to keep the Algerian-born cleric locked up in Victoria’s Barwon Prison after his sentence has finished.
It has applied to the Victorian Supreme Court under Commonwealth laws that mean people who have been convicted of terror offences can be held in detention for up to three years after their sentence finishes.
A state or territory supreme court is needed to grant a Continuing Detention Order (CDO) applied for by the Home Affairs Minister.
Mr Dutton said he would not comment on the status of the government’s application as it was before the court.
“The Commonwealth’s made its position very clear in relation to the risk we deem Benbrika to pose to the Australian public,” he said.
Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong said her colleague, Kristina Keneally, would ask for a briefing on the matter.
“We did understand when we passed those laws through the Parliament that the cancellation of citizenship was a big step but a necessary step in certain circumstances and Mr Benbrika’s activities and his conviction are well known to all of us,” she said.
“And that is why Labor supported the passage of that legislation.”