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High Court restores Australian citizenship for convicted terrorist

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The High Court of Australia has ruled a convicted terrorist can have his Australian citizenship restored.
Abdul Nacer Benbrika

The High Court of Australia has ruled a convicted terrorist can have his Australian citizenship restored.

Abdul Nacer Benbrika was sentenced to 15 years in prison after being convicted of terror-related offences in 2008.

Former Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton revoked Benbrika’s Australian citizenship using new powers in 2020.

However, the High Court has now ruled Dutton’s decision was unlawful.

Background

Abdul Nacer Benbrika was born in Algeria. He arrived in Australia in 1989 and became an Australian citizen in 1998.

In 2005, Australia’s longest-running terrorism investigation, code-named “Operation Pendennis”, led to Benbrika’s arrest in Melbourne.

Benbrika was later found guilty of three terrorism offences, including charges related to directing the activities of a terror group.

Terrorist offences

During Benbrika’s trial, the Victorian Supreme Court heard evidence that Benbrika had spoken about plans to carry out a terrorist attack at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Benbrika told a witness his terrorist group had intended to launch an attack during the AFL Grand Final, but postponed plans due to security and funding issues.

The witness said Benbrika mentioned other possible targets including Melbourne’s Crown Casino and the Grand Prix weekend.

Citizenship

In 2020, the Coalition Government passed laws giving the Home Affairs Minister extra powers to cancel the citizenships of convicted terrorists who are dual citizens.

The Home Affairs Minister at the time, Peter Dutton, cancelled Benbrika’s citizenship. This was on the grounds that he continued to pose a risk to the Australian public. Benbrika faced possible deportation to Algeria as a result.

However, the High Court struck down these laws in 2022. The court argued it was unconstitutional for a branch of government to “punish criminal guilt”.

Benbrika’s citizenship

Following the striking down of these laws, lawyers representing Benbrika argued the decision to cancel his Australian citizenship was invalid and that it should be reinstated.

This week, the High Court ruled in favour of the argument that the law revoking a terrorist’s dual citizenship was invalid.

The majority of the court ruled Mr Dutton had carried out an “exclusively judicial function of punishing criminal guilt” against Benbrika in 2020.

Government response

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the Government will look closely at this week’s citizenship ruling and “respond appropriately”.

“Quite clearly there was an issue with the former Government’s legislation, which is what this ruling relates to,” Mr Albanese said.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said the Government will “examine the judgement and its implications in detail”.

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