A CELL of up to 30 violent jihadists may remain active in Australia, according to the man who indoctrinated them while establishing a local branch of the terror group Jemaah Islamiah.
Radical Islamic preacher Abdul Rahman Ayub, who was the deputy leader of JI in Australia to his twin brother, Abdul Rahim, has told The Sunday Age they were sent by Indonesia's godfather of terrorism, Abu Bakar Bashir, in 1997 to train young radicals in their form of Islam.
Both brothers stayed until 2002, fleeing just before and after the Bali bombings. In his first ever interview with an Australian journalist, Ayub said the brothers taught perhaps 100 people the ways of violent jihad - including one man later convicted for planning to bomb the Israeli embassy in Canberra.
''When I came back from Australia in 2002, to my knowledge there were about 30 people [who were still radicals in Australia],'' he said. ''I don't know about their recent development, whether they're still active or not, but I believe they are still there. Neither I nor ASIO know the exact figures, nor how active they are.''
Asked about the potential presence of 30 jihadists, a spokesman said ''ASIO does not comment on specific investigations. ASIO does acknowledge that the terror threat remains real, persistent and prevalent.''
Once one of Australia's most wanted men, Ayub also admitted that he wanted to make Australia a financial hub for an attempt to overthrow the Indonesian state.
Ayub was trained in Afghanistan between 1986 and 1992 to fight as a mujahid, or holy warrior.
He was an expert in unarmed combat, and became a confidant of Bali bombers Hambali (whose wedding he helped pay for) and Mukhlas (whom he sparred with in kung fu). He said at one time he respected Bashir ''more than I respected my parents''.
However, he denied he had any advance knowledge of the Bali attack and insisted he never wanted an attack on Australian soil.
''My mission was to preach Islam … Bashir told us not to commit any violence in Australia - we treated Australia as a country for taking political asylum,'' he said.
''But we did teach jihad against Indonesia, against Suharto at the time. We taught about forming an Islamic state, but in Indonesia, not in Australia.'' Australia was to be ''our financial base to financially support our struggle in Indonesia'', he said.
Ayub said ASIO had confiscated all the cassettes he and his brother had made of their sermons over the years and found nothing to charge them with.
However, the twins did recruit to JI British immigrant and Muslim convert Jack Roche - who was arrested and jailed in 2002 for conspiring to bomb the Israeli embassy in Canberra.
''We decided we needed an Australian who could speak Arabic, to talk to people about Islam,'' Ayub said.
After they recruited him, Roche went to Indonesia, where he met terrorist mastermind Hambali (now in Guantanamo Bay).
''Hambali influenced him with this Osama [bin Laden] doctrine and helped him go to al-Qaeda camp,'' Ayub said. ''It happened without our knowledge. When Roche returned [to Australia] he acted differently. He didn't obey me, and we suspected something was wrong.''
Ayub said the 9/11 attack, Bali and Roche's plot were errors that had changed how Islam was regarded in the West and had damaged his own faith in violent jihad.
''I was furious. I was very against those attacks because it hurts Muslims themselves. It hurts people in general all over the world. It hurts humanity, and it hurts our principles,'' Ayub says now.
He said he believed now that Muslims should fight only as soldiers in a war zone and hoped Indonesia might become an Islamic state, but thinks it could not be rushed by human intervention: ''If Allah wants to give it to us, it will happen.''
Ayub works in and around Jakarta as a freelance theologian, preaching Islam. His brother, who left Australia three days after the Bali bombing, runs two schools.
Abdul Rahim declined to be interviewed but, according to Abdul Rahman, has now also given up his belief in violent jihad.