A TOP Sydney school student was praised by Arthur Sinodinos and given $2000 by the federal government shortly before flying out of Australia to join Islamic State’s propaganda unit in Syria.
It is unclear whether Samir Atwani, who graduated from Sydney’s Canterbury Boys High last year after receiving a university admissions score of 96.25, used any of the government prizemoney to travel to Syria, where he became a video editor for the proscribed terrorist group.
Last week, The Australian revealed the man, now identified as Mr Atwani, had been studying electrical engineering at university but abandoned the degree when he went to Syria sometime in the past six months. He is now based in Deir Ezzor province. Mr Atwani was a high-achieving student at Canterbury Boys High, which former prime minister John Howard attended as a boy.
In a June 17 media release from Senator Sinodinos, he was one of two students of the school to be “congratulated” for being among 500 Australians to each win a $2000 prize for achievements in a Vocational Education and Training in School course.
“Samir Atwani and (the other student) are not just ambassadors for their school but for the first-class career opportunities that high-quality VETiS can provide,” Senator Sinodinos was quoted as saying in the media release.
Senator Sinodinos, who recently stepped down as assistant treasurer, refused to comment yesterday. A spokeswoman said he had never met Mr Atwani. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop also declined to comment.
One of the teenager’s closest friends said yesterday Mr Atwani, along with his online profiles, vanished in August, despite the teenager doing well at university, where he had started an engineering degree.
Mr Atwani is understood to have been born in Australia into a family descended from the Palestinian refugee community in Lebanon who fled Israel after the creation of the Jewish state.
Mr Atwani’s friend said the budding video editor had gone to Lebanon for some weeks with his father about 18 months ago, where they visited Palestinian relatives. He said Mr Atwani had occasionally mentioned Islamic State videos and praised them — not for their content, but for their high production quality.
The revelations come as Ms Bishop described online posts praising Sydney man Ahmad Mohamad al-Ghaz’zaoui as “idiotic” after he was reportedly killed while fighting with Islamic State last week. Ghaz’zaoui is believed to have entered Syria only a month ago and is one of at least 20 Australians to have been killed fighting with the terrorist group.
In response to friends and family members of Ghaz’zaoui calling him a “martyr”, Ms Bishop said: “If people want to put stupid or idiotic things on Facebook, then that’s not a (criminal) offence in itself.
“But if people are inciting or advocating or promoting terrorism under the new laws that this government has introduced, then that can be an offence.”
This month, Mr Atwani told The Australian he had volunteered to be in the media unit after Islamic State sought volunteers with experience in video production, and described watching an alleged “spy” being beheaded as “satisfying”. The man — who would not give his name — cut off contact with The Australian after he denied being Samir Atwani and suggested he had transferred “ownership” of his YouTube account — Straight Path Media — to that person.
This is despite him telling friends on Twitter he had received a stipend from advertisements on the YouTube channel, and telling The Australian the account was his and that he had been producing videos — as a hobby — while still at school.
The man’s now-suspended Twitter account had previously been registered under the name “Sam”, and he had said he also went by “Samir Antony” online.
A Facebook post by “Straight Path” in October last year said there had been delays in uploading new videos because “I am busy with my final year in high school with exams”. One social media account of Samir Atwani also features “Straight Path Media” in its profile picture, which was uploaded in August last year.
Courtesy of The Australian