March 2007: Extremist students take over Newcastle mosque

March 20, 2007 the Australian

HARDLINE international students have wrested control of a major NSW mosque, ousting the local cleric amid accusations the group is rapidly converting followers to extremist Islam.

Up to 150 university students from Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Egypt who follow the fundamentalist Wahabbism ideology were central to the overthrow at the weekend of the executive board of the Newcastle Muslim Association.

Deposed association president Yunus Kara yesterday accused the students of pushing for new leadership of the port city's mosque in order to advance their own extremist agenda and continue "brainwashing" local Muslims ...

Newcastle Mosque's deposed imam, Bilal Kanj, who was also voted out on the weekend, said while the students openly denied their Wahabbi beliefs and radical Koranic interpretations, they were converting people during prayer group meetings and other religious gatherings.

"If you were to ask them, they will deny they're Wahabbi," said the Australian-born cleric, who moved to Newcastle three months ago to work as a full-time spiritual leader.

"They play it very discreetly. We've been studying them all of our life and we know how to spot them very easily.".

Mr Kara said the international students were aged between 20 and 30, and were known to make home visits to members of the port city's 600-strong Muslim population to preach their beliefs.