Former Iraqi soldier avoided death boatJasmin Lill
7 April 2004
A FORMER Iraqi soldier turned down a chance to board a boat full of illegal immigrants bound for Australia because he had fears about the vessel's safety, a court was told yesterday.
Mahhmod Yussef, who now lives in Brisbane, served in the Iraqi army for five years but fled the country in 1999 to escape Saddam Hussein's regime.
Yussef gave evidence yesterday in the committal hearing of Khaleed Shnayf Daoed, 36, who has been charged with 12 offences related to people smuggling in 2001.
Yussef told Brisbane Magistrate's Court he and his wife had arranged to travel on the doomed vessel, referred to as SIEV-X (suspected illegal entry vessel) by authorities, which sank on its way to Australia from Indonesia in October 2001.
A total of 353 people drowned when the vessel capsized and just 44 were rescued by an Indonesian fishing vessel.
The ringleader of the people-smuggling operation, Egyptian Abu Quassey, was sentenced to seven years' jail by an Egyptian court in December after he was found guilty of homicide through negligence and aiding illegal immigration.
Yussef said that as he had prepared to make his voyage, Daoed and Quassey had told the travellers not to take too much luggage before they were bussed to the coast of Sumatra.
Yussef also told the court he had seen police officers on the beach and in small boats ferrying passengers to the ship before it set sail.
But he said he had decided to abandon the trip after discovering the vessel was so small and old.
"I said to Khaled and Abu Quassey, 'You go back and unboard some of the people on the boat and please bring back my friend,' " he said. But as the pair put to sea in a smaller boat, Yussef said he saw a torch light directing the larger boat to set sail.
When Daoed arrived back on land, Yussef asked where the people were that he was supposed to bring back with him.
"Khaled said, 'I begged people to unboard but they refused,' " Yussef recounted.
Yussef said he and his wife had joined other passengers who refused to make the journey and they never saw Daoed or Quassey again.
Another passenger, Faris Kadhem, told the court there had been a lot of false reports about the boat, including that it had a basketball court and a fish tank to watch if travellers got bored.
Daoed has vowed to fight the charges and has claimed he was only farewelling friends and relatives who were going on the voyage.
The hearing continues.