Dan Box & Mark Schliebs in The Australian, 27 January 2016, where the title is “Terror Documents on Teens’ Phone”
Sameh Bayda last used the encrypted messaging service Telegram at 5.12am on Wednesday, January 13. A few hours later, counter-terrorism police raided his house. Seizing the teenager’s phone, which he had used to access that encrypted app, they found three documents allegedly containing written instructions, including from terrorist group al-Qa’ida, “connected with the preparation for a terrorist act”. One of these, written in Arabic, provided “instruction on how to carry out a successful stabbing attack”, a court was told yesterday. Another, also in Arabic, detailed “how to make an improvised explosive device”. The 18-year-old former Granville Boys High School student faces the prospect of up to 15 years in prison.
Mr Bayda’s neighbours in Guildford in western Sydney said they feared the damage he might have done to himself and his “beautiful” family. While Mr Bayda’s use of Telegram did not spark the police raid — investigators had become increasingly concerned about his activities over recent weeks — sources said it marked a shift in the tactics alleged extremists used. Communications sent using encrypted services such as Telegram cannot easily be read by police. The company’s website says it is more secure than its “mass-market” competitors, using “end-to-end encryption (that) leave no trace on our servers, support self-destructing messages and don’t allow forwarding”.
Two days after Mr Bayda’s brick duplex house was raided, Telegram founder Pavel Durov tweeted that his company was removing up to 10 accounts linked to Islamic State every day. At this point, it is not clear what the documents on Mr Bayda’s phone contained, although the authorities say such material is being widely circulated between extremists online. What court documents tendered yesterday describe as “a PDF document in English published by the proscribed terrorist organisation al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula” is thought to be a copy of the group’s online propaganda magazine Inspire.
At least one senior Islamic State member, Junaid Hussain, who is also known to have used Telegram, last year sent out instructions on how to build improvised explosives similar to those used in the 2013 Boston Marathon attack. Hussain was reportedly killed in a drone strike in Raqqa in Syria in August.
On the evidence before the court, the case against Mr Bayda rests largely on the material found on his mobile phone. Police do not allege he was planning a specific attack, but have charged him with “knowingly collect/make documents connected with terrorism”. Court documents say he was “reckless” as to the connection of the images in the documents to terrorism.
He is not thought to be directly connected to any known extremist group in Sydney, although the links between these individuals can often be indirect or unclear. Despite this, the police were worried. Neighbours said the house had been visited by detectives last year, around the time of a co-ordinated series of counter-terrorism raids across the city codenamed Operation Appleby. During the January 13 raid, Mr Bayda was served with a firearms prohibition order, allowing police to search him and his home without first obtaining a court warrant. Then, on Monday afternoon, the 18-year-old was arrested. Taken into custody just before 3pm, he was refused bail. He declined to appear in court yesterday and is due to face court again next week.
A photograph of Mr Bayda, one of four children, posted online shows a bearded, soft-faced teenager wearing fluorescent work gear. In October, he registered himself as the sole director of Westside Painting and Decorating Pty, and began advertising himself online as a “licensed and insured painter” with “over five years of experience”. Although he deleted his Facebook account last year, a YouTube channel established in the name of “Sameh Bayda” includes tributes to Osama bin Laden and a Kuwaiti suicide bomber who targeted Syrian troops and Hezbollah members in Syria last year.
Two weeks ago, the same YouTube channel shared a video featuring Islamic preacher Junaid Thorne. “Look right, left and centre, what do you see? All you see is our ummah (community) suffering from multiple and several wounds to its body,” Mr Thorne says in the film. Appealing to Muslim youth, Mr Thorne says: “If you don’t get up and make a change to better the situation of our ummah, nothing will change.”
No one answered the door at Mr Bayda’s Guildford duplex yesterday, although one neighbour, Arthur Solo, described the family as “one of the most beautiful” he had met. “From what I’ve seen of the boy, it’s all just bravado,” Mr Solo said. “The boy must realise the gravity of it. That’s what I fear, the disservice he’s done to himself, his family and the other Middle Eastern people around here.”