Harun Mehicevic is a charismatic and influential “sheikh” who encourages a strict interpretation of Islam but is unlikely to openly support jihad, according to former followers.
The counter-terror raids on Saturday mark the third time since 2012 that Al-Furqan book store has been linked with Islamic extremism.
But Mr Mehicevic has never been charged with any terrorism related offence, and maintains a strong following at his Springvale South shopfront despite – or perhaps because of – his growing notoriety.
Many of Mr Mehicevic’s followers left after counter-terror raids in 2012, preferring instead to pray at Hallum mosque.
Almost 20 properties were raided, but despite police claiming that weapons, ammunition and terror material had been seized, only one man was charged for allegedly possessing magazines linked to al-Qaeda.
A man who had been close to Mr Mehicevic and maintains contact with several men who attended Al-Furqan said that in many ways it was a “youth centre”.
Mr Mehicevic held games nights, and spoke English far better than the parents of the youths attending his centre. Like many of them, he also spoke poor Arabic.
“If you’re a mentor for young people, they’re going to take it on board. It’s what it can lead to, not what he actually says,” the former follower said. “And it’s like everything when you’re that age: When your parents tell you not to do it, you want to do it more.”
Neither of the former Al-Furqan visitors spoken to by The Age said they had heard Mr Mehicevic support extremism. “I wouldn’t be surprised if people have left Al-Furqan because it’s not hard enough,” the second follower said.
“These people who get involved in this sort of stuff, there’s a lot of other factors involved.”
The second follower said Islamic State had divided Muslims between those who supported its ideals, and those who did not. But almost all Muslims condemned the actions of IS, he said.
“[Harun] would be supportive of the general idea, but not some of the actions.
“The general idea is agreed upon by a lot of Muslims, it’s when the practical details about this group [IS] come out that basically every Muslim puts their foot down.”
Fairfax Media spoke to Mr Mehicevic at his Springvale South flat, just down the road from Al-Furqan, on Thursday.
As always, he was polite but dismissive, and did not want to comment about whether he had abandoned legal action threatened against media outlets after the death of Numan Haider.
He closed the door with a smile, returning to a television blaring the morning’s news.
It’s unlikely he spent Saturday morning the same way.
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