Accused jihadi to stand trial for terrorism offences

An accused Australian jihadi has refused to respond to a magistrate as he ordered the former rapper to stand trial for terrorism offences.

Once branded as Australia's most-wanted alleged terrorist, Neil Christopher Prakash appeared in Melbourne Magistrates Court via video link on Thursday.

Wearing a black long-sleeve shirt, Prakash sat silently in the prison room and stared straight ahead as Magistrate Rohan Lawrence spoke.

Neil Prakash after his deportation (file image)
Prakash was deported back to Australia in 2022.

"Mr Prakash, can you see and hear me?" the magistrate asked.

The accused did not respond despite doing so with his lawyers earlier.

Mr Lawrence handed down his decision to commit Prakash to stand trial before a Supreme Court jury after four days of evidence from former friends and counter-terrorism police.

"In relation to the six charges, I am satisfied a jury could convict you on those six charges," he said.

The accused terror recruiter did not respond when the magistrate asked him to enter a guilty or not guilty plea to the terrorism-related offences, which include engaging in hostile activity in a foreign state, being a member of a terrorist organisation and advocating terrorism.

"I noted that you have not responded so I have entered a plea of not guilty,” the magistrate said.

The court on Thursday finished hearing evidence from the Australian Federal Police's joint counter-terrorism team case manager Detective Senior Constable Dennis Scott.

Neil Prakash (file image)
An AFP detective said Prakash has “moderated his views" but did not recognise the justice system.

Det Scott told the court that while he has observed changes in Prakash's hardline views, he remains staunch about not recognising the criminal justice system.

Det Scott said he genuinely believes Prakash has “moderated his views” after he and his team spent time talking with the alleged terrorist.

“The discussions I had with Prakash and the time we spent (together), he verbalised he no longer held the violent extremist views that he used to,” he said.

“He is still conservative in relation to Islam but still can articulate an argument.”

Prakash left Melbourne and travelled to Syria in 2013 to join Islamic State before he was captured by Turkish authorities while fleeing across the border in 2016.

He was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment by a Turkish court before being deported back to Australia in December 2022.

The defence will be seeking the help of investigators in obtaining evidence from messaging applications showing his change in beliefs.

The Turkish court where Prakash was sentenced (file image)
Prakash was convicted by a Turkish court on charges of belonging to a terrorist organisation.

Det Scott said it would be highly likely Prakash would have expressed this change through private messages to others after arriving in Syria and realising the struggle.

“For those who travel to conflict zones, when they arrive and understand the realities are very different, that can be a trigger that changes their view,” Det Scott said.

“Anyone in that conflict zone that espouses views opposite to IS would put themselves in grave danger.”

Prakash could potentially have charges against him ruled out as the defence attempts to invoke a legal concept known as double jeopardy where a court is unable to deal with a person for a charge they have previously been dealt with in another jurisdiction.

Prakash was convicted by a Turkish court in 2019 on charges to the effect of being a member of a terrorist organisation but investigators are yet to determine whether there is an equivalent charge under Australian law.

Prakash will face the Supreme Court on June 3.

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