'I've Come Out Of A Cult': Terror Tradie Now Rejects ISIS
An Australian electrician who designed missile defence systems and rockets for Islamic State has now renounced the terrorist group, describing it as a "cult".
Haisem Zahab, 44, is facing up to 25 years jail for providing support to ISIS between 2014 and 2017.
But the father of six now says he rejects the group's ideology.
"I feel very embarrassed about being so stupid", Zahab told the NSW Supreme Court.
"They're extremists and terrorists."
Zahab was arrested in 2017 when federal police officers raided his property just outside the NSW town of Young.
"Are you saying you're de-radicalised to get a lighter sentence?", Richard Maidment QC for the Crown asked him.
"I'm truly embarrassed", a tearful Zahab replied.
"I was sucked into what I consider to be a cult."
Photos released by the court following Zahab's guilty plea show the extensive work he put into developing a battlefield laser warning receiver -- a device which could warn ISIS fighters about an incoming laser-guided strike.
They also reveal Zahab spent months researching and building rockets around the same time the terrorist group was developing its own rocket weapons.
He used computer simulations to test his designs, including one six-metre-long rocket with an ISIS flag printed along the side.
When police seized his electronic devices, they found evidence Zahab had sent a 288-page report detailing his laser warning receiver designs to an Islamic State contact overseas.
Zahab told the court he never sent details on his rocket designs to IS.
The Sydney-born electrician, who moved to Young with his family to escape the "rat race" said his "obsession" with ISIS began when he read reports in the news and on social media about the Assaad regime using chemical weapons against its own civilians in Syria.
"Seeing the images of the children and civilians people just choking to death had a massive effect on me," he told the court.
He started looking at the groups which were fighting back.
"I saw that the biggest group on the ground that had the best military success against Assaad was ISIS."
"I was on Twitter and I would follow the news and it became my world."
"I pretty much became obsessed with it -- with ISIS."
He began using Twitter to share thousands of pro-ISIS messages and memes and started communicating with other ISIS followers.
One message described the group as "amazing".
"It's truly a state in every way", he wrote.
Zahab told the court, he now knows his views were wrong.
"I thought I was doing something incredibly good," Zahab said.
"Do you accept now you were incredibly wrong?" Justice Geoffrey Bellew asked.
"Yes of course", he replied.
Zahab claimed he relied only on social media for his news, and that he did not realise ISIS was involved in attacks on innocent civilians because he was in a "bubble".
Justice Bellew found that hard to fathom.
"I just have a difficulty with the proposition that one can be -- as it were -- in a "bubble", completely divorced from the fact that there are -- and have been for some years -- widespread reports in every possible media, social or otherwise, about the evils of ISIS," he said.
"You would have to be almost a hermit for those reports not to come to your knowledge, surely?"
Outside court, Zahab's extended family voiced their support for him, describing him as a "very good man".
"We know our brother deep down, we know what he's like," said one male relative.
"I think a lot of us got caught up in the hype and sometimes we need to learn the hard way."
"But he's being a man about it, and he's owned it, and we're gonna do what we can to support him."
But the Crown has questioned the timing of Zahab's rejection of ISIS.
Zahab said his change of heart began about two months after he was incarcerated.
"When I was arrested I was a sympathiser with ISIS", he said.
"Once I was sent to prison, I was watching normal TV, meeting with Imams."
"I would see ISIS doing terrorist attacks on innocent civilians."
"The nail in the coffin for me -- which told me I'm right in rejecting them -- was the Sri Lanka Easter Sunday attacks against Christians."
Zahab has pleaded guilty to charges of providing support to a terrorist group and failing to comply with an order by refusing to unlock some of his electronic devices for police.
"I want to go back to the farm, and go back to my kids," he told the court.
"I've gone full circle. I will be a force for good."