Australia police arrest man accused of funding U.S. fighter in Syria

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Story highlights

  • The 23-year-old suspect is accused of funding a U.S. man who went to fight in Syria
  • Australian police say they investigated after a tip-off from the FBI
  • The suspect is accused of providing about $12,000 to a terror organization
  • Police: No known link to an incident in which a teenage terror suspect was shot dead
Australian police arrested a 23-year-old man in Melbourne on Tuesday on suspicion of funding a U.S. citizen who went to fight in Syria.
The Australian investigation was sparked by a tip-off from the FBI earlier this year, a police statement said.
The man, who has not been named, is accused of providing about $12,000 to what he knew to be a terrorist organization.
His arrest, in a joint operation by the Australian Federal Police and Melbourne Joint Counter Terrorism Team, came after searches at seven addresses in Melbourne suburbs.
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Police said there was no known link to an incident last week in which a teenage terror suspect, Numan Haider, was shot dead outside a police station in Endeavour Hills, Melbourne, after he stabbed two police officers.
There was also no intelligence to suggest that the man arrested Tuesday in the Seabrook suburb was involved in planning a terror attack or that there was any risk to the community, police said.
National Manager Counter Terrorism Neil Gaughan, of the Australian Federal Police, said the operation showed law enforcement was actively investigating all aspects of terrorism.
"We are acutely aware that to participate in overseas fighting, funds are required. In this case we will allege that the man was funding someone from the US. However who is being funded makes no difference," Gaughan said.
"Providing funding is equally criminal as actually traveling to participate and we will use all our resources to cut off the supply of funds to terrorists."
The suspect was due to appear before Melbourne Magistrates Court on Tuesday.
Terror threat level
Last week, the government introduced a new bill in parliament to imprison Australians found to be fighting abroad, or supporting terrorist actions.
Formally called the "Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill, the legislation includes new offenses for visiting countries on a no-go list issued by the government, without good reason.
Civil liberty advocates have criticized the speed at which the new legislation has been introduced, calling for the Australian public and members of parliament to be given more time -- two months -- to have their say on the bill.
On September 12, Australia lifted its terror threat level from "medium" to "high," although at the time Prime Minister Tony Abbott said no specific threats had been made. A reading of "high" means a terrorist attack is considered "likely."
Days later, more than 800 officers raided 15 homes and businesses across Sydney after investigations suggested suspects were planning "a random attack on individuals," police said in a statement.
Authorities claimed to have foiled plans to kidnap a member of the public, behead the victim and drape the body in an ISIS flag.
Home-grown terrorism fears
Authorities believe around 60 Australians are fighting in the conflict in Syria and Iraq, with around 100 more working in support roles within Australia.
Officials have in the past expressed fears about "home-grown terrorism," the likelihood that Australians recruited to fight foreign wars could bring their training and philosophies home to carry out local attacks. It's believed that about 20 fighters have already returned to Australia.
Australia is backing the U.S.-led campaign of airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq with personnel and aircraft.