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Missing man's details seized by customs

THE contact details of an Australian man captured in Syria may have been included in sensitive information that was ''improperly seized'' by customs officers from the phones and computers of one of Australia's leading imams the month before the man disappeared.

The imam, Sheikh Dr Fedaa Majzoub, an active member of the opposition Syrian National Council, was personally acquainted in Sydney with dual Australian/Syrian national Mohammad Alkakouni, who was snatched from his workplace in the city of Dar'a in June.

Dr Fedaa complained about customs officials improperly seizing and downloading information from his phones and computer, warning they may have compromised the security of all his personal acquaintances, as well as activists who may be opposing the Assad regime.

Mr Alkakouni's name has been included on a list given to the United Nations Security Council by the Syrian government of foreigners arrested for terrorism-related offences.

Mr Alkakouni's wife, Saphia, said on Wednesday her husband was a businessman producing Arabic dips, and had never been involved in acting against the Assad regime.

Dr Fedaa wrote to the former head of customs, Michael Carmody, in May last year, asking for an investigation and seeking assurances - which he never received - that the information taken would be destroyed.


Fairfax Media has obtained documents under freedom of information laws that reveal the information from Dr Fedaa's three mobile phones and an iPad were downloaded in spreadsheets and sent ''electronically to Intelligence and Targeting officers for further analysis under the [redacted] reference''.

The documents reveal that copies were also made of all his personal documents and the business cards he was carrying.

The documents show that customs officers said they downloaded the information under the Customs Act section 186A, which allows the documents to be copied if they are satisfied after initial examinations that the information may be relevant to the movement of prohibited goods, the attempted commission of an offence or the performance of functions by ASIO.

Dr Fedaa complained to customs that as part of this role with the Syrian National Council, he had ''many contacts inside and outside of Syria whose identity must remain secret due to the safety risk to myself, my family, the persons involved and their families. The Alassad [sic] regime has demonstrated on numerous occasions that it is prepared to do what is necessary to remove anyone who challenges their regime''.

A month after Dr Fedaa's phones and computer were downloaded at Sydney Airport, Mr Alkakouni was grabbed by Syrian police and has not been seen since.

The FOI documents about the incident at Sydney Airport involving Dr Fedaa and his brother Sheikh Mustapha Majzoub - who in August last year became the first Australian to be killed in Syria - indicate they were the subject of passenger movement alerts.

Sheikh Mustapha was killed in August in a rocket attack while he was carrying out charity work.

Dr Fedaa said that he and his brother were also interviewed, courteously, by ASIO officers, while customs was searching the phones and their computers.

A spokesman for Customs and Border Protection said: ''There are strict guidelines in place governing what Customs and Border Protection can do with information obtained during a search of a passenger's baggage. In the case of Sheikh Majzoub, we are confident these guidelines were adhered to. Customs and Border Protection does not share information with Syrian authorities.''