With the startling news this week that two Australian brothers have been arrested in Yemen on gun-running charges and suspicion of being al-Qaeda terrorists comes the bizarre but equally startling report that their mother is a burqa-clad, former dope-smoking hippy who got stoned once too often and converted to Islam. According to early reports here, the boys, who remain in jail in Sanaa under CIA watch, had also been under observation in Sydney last year over yet another foiled plot to carry out a London-style terror attack on Australian soil.
While this part of the story has since been denied by Australian anti-terror police, who are questioning two others over that plot, there was speculation earlier that if mum was supplying, it must have been some good shit, because this time the target was to have been Kings Cross railway station in Sydney, and good luck with that, because people have been trying to clean the place up for decades without making a dent.
The Cross is Sydney's equivalent of San Francisco's tenderloin district, or Soho in London, only dirtier and sleazier, if that's possible. The station is one of the stops on the short, eastern suburbs underground line. It's a big lump of steaming brown stuff in the middle of a string of pearls running from the swank central business district out to Bondi Junction and some of the world's most expensive harbour- and beach-front real estate.
But Australia is nothing if not egalitarian, so it's not unusual after a train stop in the Cross for a businessman in an Armani suit and $500 shoes to be standing next to a nodding off, toothless junkie in a Salvation Army tracksuit, someone else's sneakers, and pretending to read a newspaper upside down to try to look normal. And you just know this clown's contribution to society this evening is a well-spent few hours of constructive breaking and entering and opportunistic pilfering. It's also not beyond the realms of possibility that they'll both end up at the same house.
So had the initial report of the bomb plot been true, just getting to the station might have been a drama for Mohammed and Abdullah Ayub, as it's hard work for anyone, let alone a devout muslim, to successfully negotiate the prostitutes lining the main drag of Darlinghurst Rd, the discarded needles, the loud-mouthed touts outside the 24-hour strip joints (blink and you're in, almost by osmosis), the heroin addicts trying to get on and hanging around the ATMs, or the few remaining public phones that actually work, the drunks, the muggers, the homeless people, the jaded cops, and the swarthy drug dealers in BMWs (what they sell to the junkies isn't called dope for nothing).
Now, if these guys had chosen to wear full muslim gear (with those little white hats), no one would have noticed. Great disguise, along with the beard; that's standard dress for 7-11 staff around the world and half of Sydney's cabbies. Also, the Cross borders Paddington, the yuppy/gay trendy part of inner-city Sydney, and they often have theme nights (I'm told Osama bin-Laden gets a pretty good go and is quite popular among the drag queens because the loose outfit doubles nicely as a dress and is perfect for dancing in heels and fishnets on the bar as you can just hoik it straight up over the knees).
Their mum's reputed enjoyment of burning green vegetable matter might have something to do with the fact that at one stage she lived in Mudgee, in central-western New South Wales. Mudgee's actually quite nice, and more renowned for its great wine than its roll-your-own goodvibes but some of the outlying areas are a bit like the Appalachians — nice if you like coal mining, unreconstructed males, Friday-night punch-ups outside the pub, banjos, shot-up traffic signs, and unregistered pick-up trucks, or utes, as they're known in Australia.
On a trip out that way once, I stopped the car in the middle of nowhere and asked a dusty-looking bloke in shorts and a blue singlet if he knew how to get into town. Really, I should have seen it coming. He looked at me for about 30 seconds, tipped his hat back, leant on a fence post, looked me up and down again, and said: "All depends on what town yers want."
"Mudgee." I said, it being the only one within 50 miles. He said: "Nup. Carn 'elp yers. If yers wanna get to Rylstone, but, yers can just turn round and go back down the same road yers come", and he went back to his fencing. Showed that city slicker, eh? No wonder Mom moved to Sydney. The only reason you'd wrap yourself in a sheet up there is for a drunken game of dutch ovens.
And this whole story gets even more bizarre when you realise that she'd reportedly been under surveillance by the New South Wales and Australian Federal police forces over an alleged plan to hit the 2000 Sydney Olympics. (Seriously, how would she have got through the front gate in a burqa without attracting attention?)
But wait, there's more: her husband, Abdul Rahim Ayub, is an alleged kingpin of Jemaah Islamiyah, the Asian al-Qaeda, and the founder of its Sydney terror cell, Mantiki 4 (not very original, pinching their name from a male strip act). His twin brother Abdul Rahman was deported from Australia in 1999, and Abdul Rahim fled to Indonesia after the Bali bombings in 2002 when Australian police and counter-terrorism units were rounding up JI suspects.
Great role models, then, and it was a given they'd follow Dad into the family business. Would have made for some interesting conversations at the family dinner table: "Can someone pass the saltpetre?"
So the two boys from Sydney's Canterbury area (Australia's largest Muslim enclave, and how good's that for a bit of irony, considering its English namesake is the headquarters of the worldwide Anglican/Episcopalian congregation) are reputed to have engaged in a little bit of jihad training in Sanaa (religious education, according to their mum, who also happens to be in Yemen. Yeah, right) and arms smuggling into neighbouring Somalia, which might be a big problem in Yemen as the government's not that keen on it these days.
All this at a time when the local Sydney mufti, Sheik Taj el-din al-Hilaly, whom The Daily Telegraph called the "Thick Sheik" in 200pt headline type on its front page last weekend, is under fire from all quarters, including his own flock, for comparing women to pieces of uncovered meat who might be inviting their own sexual assault by wearing skimpy, western-style clothes instead of the hijab.
So it hasn't been a great week in Australia for those inclined to more radical veins of Muslim thought and the boys, who were arrested in the U.S.-led operation, along with a third Aussie identified as Polish-born Marek Sumolski (now known as Abdul Malik) and a number of other foreign nationals, might have been better off actually plotting to blow up the Cross and getting caught in Sydney, because at least the New South Wales Department of Corrective Services gives suspected terrorists a free Koran and a room of their own, and if it's at Long Bay Jail, they can even get a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean from some of the cells provided they stand on tippy-toes on the toilet and lean sideways a bit.
Habeus Corpus does, at this point, also remain the cornerstone of Australian criminal law, despite the fact that Prime Minister John Howard is steadily moving to the right of Genghis Khan, and they get three square meals a day (and Halal, too, at considerable extra cost to the taxpayer, but who's complaining as long as they're happy), and they can at least have some confidence about the identity and sexual history of the protein component. So if they're to spend a long time in jail over in Yemen, where they're guilty until proven innocent, let's hope they've developed a fondness for pre-loved goat.Powered by Sidelines