Australia cancels citizenship of Muslim cleric in local first


SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia has cancelled the citizenship of an Algerian-born Muslim cleric who was convicted of leading a terrorist cell that planned to bomb a football match in Melbourne in 2005, Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton said on Wednesday.

Abdul Nacer Benbrika is now the first person to be stripped of his citizenship while still in Australia.

"If it's a person who's posing a significant terrorist threat to our country, then we'll do whatever is possible within Australian law to protect Australians," Dutton told reporters in Brisbane.

Benbrika was convicted on three terrorism charges. He was jailed for 15 years for directing a terrorist group, being a member of a terrorist group and possessing material associated with planning of a terrorist act.

Benbrika remains in an Australian prison despite finishing his sentence. Under Australian law Canberra is permitted to detain anyone convicted of terror offences for up to three years after their sentence finishes.

Lawyers for Benbrika have appealed against his ongoing detention. He has 90 days to appeal the cancellation of his visa and return to Algeria.

Under Australian law, a person can only be stripped of their citizenship if they are dual citizens, thereby preventing people from being made stateless.

Australia used the powers in 2019 to strip the citizenship of Neil Prakash, an alleged Islamic State recruiter who is imprisoned in Turkey. Australia argued he was a dual citizen as he also has Fijian citizenship, though Fiji denied the claim - souring the bilateral relationship.

(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry)

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