Terrorists ‘groomed’ Adelaide student after she became isolated, court hears
An Adelaide woman convicted of being a member of Islamic State (IS) was socially isolated and “groomed” by terrorists online, a court has heard.
- The court heard Zainab Abdirahman-Khalif watched extremist material online
- She denies being a member of IS and says she wanted to find humanitarian work in Turkey
- There have only been two other convictions in Australia for being a member of a terrorist organisation
Zainab Abdirahman-Khalif, 23, was found guilty of being a member of a terrorist organisation after a Supreme Court trial earlier this year.
During a pre-sentencing hearing, the court heard evidence from forensic psychologist Loraine Lim who interviewed Abdirahman-Khalif on five separate occasions.
Dr Lim — who prepared a report for Abdirahman-Khalif’s defence counsel — said she found it hard to engage with the former nursing student as she was very guarded and “dismissive and evasive” about her conduct.
The court heard the woman, who came to Australia when she was 13, had become radicalised by watching extremist material and communicating with terrorists online.
Dr Lim said she became socially isolated after dropping out of university.
“The internet then became her only social outlet, except for interaction with her family which was also breaking down at that time,” she said.
During her trial the court heard Abdirahman-Khalif was communicating online with three young African women who carried out a bombing in Mombasa, Kenya, in September 2016, for which IS later claimed responsibility.
Dr Lim said Abdirahman-Khalif was struggling with psychological vulnerabilities and the women “groomed” her by offering her support that she was not getting from the people around her in Adelaide.
“I doubt this woman just had friendship on her mind,” she said.
However, Justice David Peek questioned how Dr Lim could reach her conclusions given she had not read the transcript from the trial or viewed the evidence presented, including that Abdirahman-Khalif used a photo of an AK-47 as her display picture online.
Motivated to help people, defence says
Police found audio files and videos associated with IS on the woman’s phone. (Supplied: Australian Federal Police)
The court heard Abdirahman-Khalif still denied she was a member of IS and claimed that she was flying to Turkey on a one-way ticket to find humanitarian aid work.
It heard she had a lack of insight into how her behaviour had led to her current legal predicament.
Defence barrister Bill Boucaut SC said there was an important distinction between a terrorist and someone who fits the legal definition of being a member of a terrorist organisation.
He said his client was motivated by wanting to help people.
“It was not suggested in any way, shape or form by the prosecution that she was going to engage in acts of violence or terrorism, that she was going to be a fighter or blow things up,” he said.
Justice Peek disputed the submission.
“You must equally accept Mr Boucaut that one may support a terrorist organisation by doing things other than pulling the trigger,” he said.
Mr Boucaut called for a sentence that would see his client released from custody soon and told the court she had the support of her family.
He said she would be accepted back into the Somalian community upon her release and that supporters wanted to do what they could to help her rehabilitate back into society.
Prosecutor Chris Winneke QC said there had only been two other convictions in Australia for being a member of a terrorist organisation, which carried a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
He said a term of imprisonment was the only appropriate sentence for Abdirahman-Khalif.
During the trial, the court heard she was detained at Adelaide Airport in July 2016 while trying to board a plane to Turkey with just hand luggage and $170.
Police found 378 audio files associated with IS on her phone, along with 125 videos from an IS media organisation, many of which contained extremist material including captives being executed and dead bodies on the ground.
Abdirahman-Khalif, who lived with her mother and brothers at Mansfield Park, north of Adelaide, was also recorded repeating oaths and singing songs connected to IS in her bedroom.
Justice Peek will hand down his sentence at a later date.