Ex Islamic State member says he was 'naive' and brainwashed by religious extremism - but reading the Koran helped him steer away from the terrorist group

Australian Associated Press/September 17, 2021

A Sydney Islamic State member whose online martyrdom posts included Canberra's Parliament House flying a black flag, says he was naive and brainwashed.

'I have completely renounced my membership of IS and any other terrorist organisation,' Youssef Uweinat told the NSW Supreme Court on Friday.

'I feel everything I said was false and wrong.'

The 23-year-old has pleaded guilty to being a member of IS knowing it was a terrorist organisation, between June and December 2019.

He also admitted advocating the doing of a terrorist act, being reckless as to whether another person will engage in a terrorist act, between July and December 2019.

He had posted increasingly more serious extremist material online and sought to convince others, including underage teenagers, to pledge allegiance to IS.

Uweinat, who was arrested at his Riverwood home in December 2019, testified at his sentence hearing, saying he had been young and naive.

He pledged allegiance to IS informally and non-verbally, by copying and pasting a statement he saw online.

He saw himself as a member, but now understood why it was illegal due to followers being ordered to carry out terrorist attacks, 'to commit mass murder and they influence other members to turn against governments'.

He was prompted to renounce IS after doing his own research about the true meaning of Islam and reading the Koran, now realising IS only used sections to justify their actions.

'I would say I was brainwashed by IS propaganda,' he said.

He was 'deeply embarrassed' by his actions and wanted to put it all behind him, hoping to help young Australians to turn away from extremism on his release.

Under cross-examination, he agreed he told a psychologist he had not been prepared to die for his religion.

Referred to posts where he had mastered images of himself with flags and other IS symbols, he agreed they referenced dying for Allah and martyrdom as something desirable.

But while he then believed that, he said he had not been prepared to die and meant others should.

Despite the image of the black flag at Parliament House and a martyrdom reference, he said 'I never supported a terrorist attack in Australia'.

His parents gave evidence, telling the judge of their shock over his actions, with his mother saying 'it is not the way we brought him up'.

But they accepted he had learnt his lesson and would support him on his release.

A prison chaplain, who said he has dealt with most of NSW's terror-related offenders, said Uweinat was no longer a religious extremist and posed no risk to society.

Justice Geoffrey Bellew will sentence him on October 8.

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