SYDNEY, Australia – The firebrand cleric who went overseas just days before some of his cohorts were rounded up in the nation's biggest counter-terrorism raid is the subject of a new police investigation, after a call for children to join jihad as holy warriors appeared in a DVD being sold in Australia.
Sydney-born Sheik Feiz Mohamed's radical sermons — available on the internet and on DVDs and videos — have become popular with Muslims around the world.
In one video, running on the hugely popular website YouTube, he admonishes his followers in English for not "sacrificing a drop of blood" as martyrs.
Australian Federal Police said yesterday they had begun inquiries into Sheik Feiz's DVD encouraging jihad, which is believed to be unclassified in Australia and illegal to sell.
New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma accused the cleric yesterday of inciting terrorism.
"This DVD goes a lot further than vilification," he said. "The sort of incitement that the DVD encourages is incitement to acts of violence and acts of terror."
Sheik Feiz, a member of Sunni Islam's fundamentalist Wahhabi sect, left Australia for Lebanon in late 2004, just days before federal and state police and ASIO conducted raids in Sydney and Melbourne, arresting 23 people on terror-related charges.
The cleric calls two of the accused terrorists close friends and knew all of the Sydney men arrested.
He has links to almost every notable member of Australia's Islamic community and continues to direct his Global Islamic Youth Center — the nerve center of Islamic youth in Sydney, setting the tone for 4000 youths, their families and fraternities.
Along with Sheik Mohammed Omran in Melbourne and Sydney's Sheik Abdul Salem Mohammed Zoud, he is considered one of Australia's leading radical clerics. Unlike Sheik Omran and Sheik Zoud, Sheik Feiz preaches in English with a strong Australian accent rather than Arabic.
In the video running on YouTube, which could not be dated, he criticises Muslims in Australia for not sacrificing their blood as martyrs and for putting lifestyle ahead of action in response to massacres of Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine.
"In our times it is the fear of death, the fear of sacrificing your finger, your toe, a drop of blood that is more honourable than anything else," he says.
"Why? Because martyrdom to us is, is not as appealing to us, as it was to those ancestors, the great warriors ... who lived around the best creature that walked the earth, Mohammed."
The YouTube video follows revelations in a British documentary that Sheik Feiz's collection of DVDs — called the Death Series — were being sold by children in the carpark of a mosque in the British city of Birmingham.
In that and another series called Signs of the Hour, made about four years ago, Sheik Feiz labelled Jews "pigs" and exhorted children to jihad.
"We want to have children and offer them as soldiers defending Islam," he says. "Teach them this: there is nothing more beloved to me than wanting to die as a mujahid. Put in their soft, tender hearts the zeal of jihad and a love of martyrdom."
In an exclusive interview with The Australian, Sheik Feiz said that every one of those remarks could be put in context.
"The jihad I speak of is not one of violence," he said. "It is one of personal struggle against things like mischievousness, temptation and personal harm. I have never advocated violence against Australians or anyone embracing the Australian way of life. I have never called for people to be harmed. If anyone fights you for what you are, you defend yourself
"I don't believe in suicide bombing, I don't believe in violence against others. We don't invite that, we don't encourage that. We denounce that. This is not Islamic law and it is not moral."
He said he regretted the remark about Jews being pigs and said this was made in the days following the images of a young Palestinian, Mohammed al-Dura, being pinned down with his father in crossfire in Gaza in 2002. The boy was killed and the images became an enduring propaganda tool for the Palestinians during the intifada years.
"That remark was made in the heat of the moment and I regret it," Sheik Feiz said. "It was not something I should have said and is not something I believe."
B'nai B'rith Anti-defamation Commission chairman Michael Lipshutz said the Muslim community had to publicly distance itself from anti-Semitic individuals and organisations.
However, Muslim youth representative Fadi Rahman said the reaction to the four-year-old video that authorities have been aware of for nearly as long was an example of prejudice against the Muslim community. "This is what tells us we will never fit in no matter what we do. "It's telling the kidsthey're always going to be marginalized."
Acting Attorney-General Kevin Andrews said the matter was being investigated by the relevant authorities.
"It's offensive to the Australian people, it's reprehensible, it's particularly outrageous that certain groups in Australia, such as the Jewish community, have been highlighted in these comments and we condemn the comments," he said.
Experts believe the DVD material — recorded in 2004 — would escape federal sedition laws, which were passed in 2005 as part of the federal Government's terrorism legislation, but may fall foul of other laws.
University of New South Wales (NSW) law lecturer Andrew Lynch said NSW racial vilification legislation might apply to Sheik Feiz's description of Jews as pigs, and the videos could be in breach of the federal criminal code, which prohibits incitement to commit an offence.
While the Mufti of Australia, Taj Din al-Hilali, sparked national outrage by comparing scantily clad women to uncovered meat, Sheik Feiz once told a meeting at Bankstown, in Sydney's southwest Muslim heartland, that indecently dressed women were setting themselves up for rape.