Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions

Would-be foreign fighter jailed for seven years

Year: 
2018-2019
Category: 
Counter-Terrorism
Location: 
Victoria

The ringleader of a group of extremist Muslims who planned to sail to the southern Philippines and encourage others to violently overthrow its government, was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment on 3 May 2019.

The sentence was handed down after Robert Cerantonio (34) pleaded guilty to preparing to sail a fishing boat from Cape York in North Queensland to the region of Mindanao in the Philippines, in order to encourage a violent Islamist insurgency. Mr Cerantonio was an influential extremist preacher and supporter of Islamic State with connections to the Philippines.

In early May 2016, Mr Cerantonio and four co-offenders set off from Melbourne for the Cape York Peninsula. They were driving a 4WD, towing a seven-metre fishing boat. Each of the men had previously been prevented from travelling on their passports. 

The AFP had the men under surveillance for a considerable period of time as they searched for a boat and car, purchased equipment, discussed finance and even the types of fruit available in the Philippines.

When the AFP arrested the men outside Cairns, they had navigational equipment, travel guides, language books, a list of code words, camouflage clothing and a portable toilet. Tellingly, there were no fishing rods in their luggage.

Mr Cerantonio’s sentencing brought to an end a number of successful prosecutions arising from this police investigation. His five co-accused were each sentenced in February 2019 on a single charge of preparing to engage in hostile activities in a foreign country contrary to s119.4(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth): 

•    Paul Dacre, Antonino Granata and Kadir Kaya were each sentenced to four years’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of three years. 

•    Murat Kaya was sentenced to three years and eight months’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of two years and nine months. 

•    Shayden Thorne was sentenced to three years and 10 months’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of two years, 10 and a half months.

His Honour Justice Croucher found that the offence involved substantial and sustained acts preparatory to departure from Australia, and that the group was motivated by an adherence to extremist, misguided and dangerous religious thinking.

‘It is a belief system that is very difficult for the criminal justice system to combat, because, among other things, it is often held with unyielding fervour and causes otherwise decent and intelligent persons to behave in such extreme and irrational ways,’ he said.

A dedicated team of CDPP prosecutors worked closely with the Victorian Joint Counter Terrorism Team throughout the prosecution of this matter.

Banner photo on home page courtesy of the Australian Federal Police.