MARK COLVIN: The Sydney man, Bilal Khazal – still under surveillance by Australian authorities over his links to suspected al-Qaeda members and a Lebanese terrorist cell – is also provoking interest in the United States.
The Washington Institute, a think-tank headed by the former US envoy to the Middle East Dennis Ross, has released a report looking specifically at Khazal's links to the Lebanese-based group, Asbat al-Ansar.
Two years ago, the United States designated Asbat al-Ansar as a terrorist organisation. But the group has allegedly continued to plan terrorist attacks, including an assassination attempt on a US ambassador and the bombing of a McDonald's restaurant.
Lebanese authorities have charged Bilal Khazal in-absentia over his involvement with that bombing and are having talks with Australia over his possible extradition.
But the author of the Washington Institute's report, Jonathan Schanzer, told our reporter Nick Mckenzie that the United States should also consider listing Khazal as a terrorist.
JONATHAN SCHANZER: Recently, after the arrests of the people from the Tripoli cell, people have come out and openly admitted that Khazal had been funding people in the camp. In fact, dating back at least six months ago, reading in the Lebanese press, reading in Arabic one could see Khazal's name had appeared several times.
In other words, reports were coming into the Arabic press that Khazal was somehow funding the violence that was going on in the Ein al-Hilweh camp. Now, in particular, after the attacks against the McDonald's and against Vincent Battle, people have been coming out and stating it outright that Khazal has been tied to this group.
NICK MCKENZIE: You make mention in your policy paper that on the stand, one of the member's of the Tripoli cell made mention of at least AUS$3,500 that was sent from Khazal to the cell's leader, Mohammed Kaaka. It seems like a very small amount, but yet people are still saying Khazal was a prime funder of this group.
JONATHAN SCHANZER: Well, the reports have ranged anywhere from US$1,800 to about US$3,000 or more, and that's just what they've been able to definitively link to Khazal, so, it could be that there was more. At this point again, that would conjecture to try to figure out how much more.
One has to consider the fact that there are only several hundred fighters in Asbat al-Ansar. They operate in a small refugee camp that's only about a square kilometre large. And, you know, what they fight with are M16s, rocket propelled grenades and on occasion, armour piercing missiles and some mortars.
But what we're looking at here though is that they don't need that much ammunition in order to carry out these attacks. So, if you're looking at US$3,000, just what we're able to tie to Khazal, this would indicate that that would at least be able to fund at least one round of fighting.
NICK MCKENZIE: You mentioned in your policy paper that the US should provide more intelligence and support for Australia's investigation into Khazal. There's an inference there that the US does indeed have intelligence on Khazal, has been tracking Khazal. Do you have any access to that intelligence or indeed any proof that it does exist?
JONATHAN SCHANZER: It is known that the CIA has been keeping its eye on Khazal from certain documents that have become public. So, if that's the case then my assumption is that the CIA also probably has some other information that it has not yet shared.
If it has that information, it would probably behove the US Government should begin to cooperate with both Spain and Australia to try to determine whether this individual has broader links to terrorism, and if he does then the correct actions be taken.
In other words, you know, to designate him as a specially designated terrorist and to be able to help Australia or Spain or other countries to press charges against him.
NICK MCKENZIE: You make mention of quite a lot of intelligence about Bilal Khazal that seems to link him at least at face value to terrorist groups. Are you surprised then the United States hasn't taken the initiative to designate Bilal Khazal as at terrorist?
JONATHAN SCHANZER: No, I'm not surprised at all. I mean, I think this is a man who has stood largely on the periphery of a small group that the public has not learnt quite a bit about.
Asbat al-Ansar, as I mentioned, is considered very small, operating in a very specific area. There doesn't seem to be a threat to US citizens, so, I would say that it's not a surprise. The main groups that people are worried about here in the United States are the ones that make the big headlines and Asbat al-Ansar is clearly not that.
But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't be more concerned about it. One of the things that we have learned the hard way is that some small groups, if we don't pay attention to them, could become havens for wider terrorist activity.
MARK COLVIN: Jonathan Schanzer of The Washington Institute, speaking to our reporter Nick McKenzie. The ABC was unable to contact Bilal Khazal, but he has previously denied that he has any links to terrorism.