By Sam Clark and Dan Oakes, ABC News
Five Melbourne men have been charged with counter-terrorism offences over an alleged plan to travel to Indonesia by boat and join the fighting in Syria.
Islamic preacher Musa Cerantonio, Shayden Thorne, Kadir Kaya and two others were charged with preparing to enter a foreign country on Tuesday to engage in hostile activities.
They face a maximum penalty of life in prison if found guilty.
The men, aged between 21 and 33 years old, were arrested after they allegedly towed a 7-metre fishing boat from Melbourne towards Cape York.
The group are due to face a Cairns court on Monday where prosecutors are expected to apply for their extradition to Melbourne.
Police would not disclose how long ago the men travelled from Melbourne to northern Australia but believed they were intending to travel through Indonesia and the Philippines to Syria.
AFP Deputy Commissioner Neil Gaughan on Tuesday said the men were “very committed” to leave the country after previously having their passports cancelled.
“The fact that they’d gone all the way from Melbourne, all the way to far north Queensland, indicates that these people were extremely committed in … their attempt to leave the country,” he said.
AFP allege the men purchased the boat in Melbourne before travelling to Queensland.
Police said they had been investigating the men “for weeks” and there was no domestic terrorism threat arising from the investigation.
In a statement, the AFP said there was “no current or impending threat of a terrorist act to the Australian community arising from this investigation”.
Preacher kept ‘low profile’
Cerantonio was born into an Italian family in Melbourne’s western suburbs, but converted to Islam at the age of 17.
A few years ago, he was one of the most popular and influential online preachers supporting the jihad in Iraq and Syria.
In 2014 he was arrested on the Philippines island of Cebu after using Twitter to tell his followers that he had travelled to Syria.
The Philippines authorities told the ABC at the time of his arrest that they had acted on information provided to them by the AFP.
He was deported back to Australia after his passport was cancelled but never charged.
Since then Cerantonio has kept a relatively low profile online.
Musa Cerantonio: Who is the online preacher inspiring foreign fighters to join IS?
Described as an “inspiration” to jihadists worldwide, Musa Cerantonio has emerged as one of the most influential online preachers supporting foreign fighters in the Syrian conflict.
Raised a Catholic in Melbourne, Mr Cerantonio converted to Islam at the age of 17.
The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) described him as a “spiritual authority” for foreign fighters and an “outspoken cheerleader” for Islamic State (IS).
The 2014 report said one in four foreign fighters followed his Twitter account and said he played an “important role in radicalising some individuals”.
It said Mr Cerantonio was “explicit” in his support for IS compared to his counterparts — a “set of spiritual authorities” influencing Westerners to become foreign fighters.
He was named alongside US-based cleric Ahmad Musa Jibril as the two most popular authorities within foreign fighter networks.
However, at the time there was no evidence to suggest either were physically involved in facilitating the flow of foreign fighters to Syria.
New links to IS emerge
On Tuesday Mr Cerantonio was among five men arrested in Cairns over an alleged plan to take a small boat to Indonesia and join IS.
Police arrested the men as they were towing a boat towards Cape York, in far north Queensland.
In 2014, Mr Cerantonio claimed he was travelling to Syria to join fighters of IS.
He was later deported from the Philippines after falsely claiming to be en route to Syria.
Australian authorities previously said his social media postings were “offensive and disturbing”.
However, since 2014, Mr Cerantonio has kept a relatively low profile online.