Zainab Abdirahman-Khalif, 24, of Mansfield Park in Adelaide, was convicted of being a member of a terror group by a jury following a trial in the South Australian Supreme Court in September 2018.
But the verdict was set aside and she was acquitted by Chief Justice Chris Kourakis and Justice Greg Parker in a Supreme Court majority decision on Thursday.
Chief Justice Chris Kourakis said, “There’s no reason she should not be released,” reported The Advertiser. Justice Greg Parker also supported the decision.
Justice Patricia Kelly said she would have dismissed the appeal.
According to The Advertiser, the court’s judgment cannot yet be released; there are concerns that it may reveal investigation techniques used by Australia’s counter-terrorism operatives.
Abdirahman-Khalif cried and hugged supporters, including her mother, after she was released from the dock.
The former nursing student has spent more than two years behind bars after she was found guilty in South Australia’s first terrorism trial.
But she launched an appeal, arguing that the guilty verdict was unreasonable and could not be supported on the evidence.
She pleaded not guilty to one count of being a member of a terrorist organization between 2016 and 2017, reported The Advertiser.
One-Way Ticket to Turkey
In July 2016, Abdirahman-Khalif was stopped by police at Adelaide Airport while trying to board a plane to Istanbul, Turkey. She told officers she was taking a last-minute holiday, despite having a small amount of clothing, no return flight, and less than $200 in funds.
She was later released without charge.
In May 2017, she was arrested at the Port Adelaide TAFE SA campus following a lengthy police investigation. Australian Federal Police charged her with “knowingly being a member of a terrorist organization,” reported the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
According to a report by the ABC on the three-week trial, the court heard that Abdirahman-Khalif had pledged allegiance to ISIS and had been communicating with other young female ISIS members.
On her phone, authorities found 378 files associated with ISIS, as well as 125 videos from an ISIS-related media organization—62 of which had extremist material, including footage of buildings being blown up, beheadings of captives, and dead bodies on the ground, the jury heard.
At the time, the court also heard that Abdirahman-Khalif had lived in refugee camps in Kenya until she was 14 years old and moved to Australia in 2009 with her family, who were of Somalian origin.
Justice David Peek sentenced her to a non-parole period of two years and three months, backdated to May 2017 when she was arrested.
The justice noted multiple times during his sentencing remarks that the woman had not been accused or convicted of carrying out or planning terrorist acts, or having involvement in anything of such nature, reported the ABC.
“I find that you were convicted on the basis of your taking of steps to become a member of Islamic State, rather than on a more serious basis of being positively involved in performing violent acts of terrorism or having an intention to do so,” he said at the time. “You are to be sentenced on that lesser basis.”
But he rejected her claim that her travel to Turkey with a one-way ticket in July 2016 was a “last-minute decision to go on an innocent holiday.” He also rejected her claim that she was not involved in downloading hundreds of files that were associated with ISIS that were found on her phone.
He also pointed out that she showed no remorse after being stopped at Adelaide Airport in July 2016 and continued to communicate with young female ISIS members, who later reportedly committed a terrorist act in Mombasa, Kenya, in September 2016, according to the ABC.
“Someone who had merely been curious about, or flirting with IS, would have taken the various police actions of questioning, detaining, interrogating, arresting, searching luggage and so on as a salutary warning to cease any contact with IS,” Peek said. “However you completely ignored that warning. Within eight minutes of having your phone returned by police you were in communication with one of the Mombasa group and thereafter you continued to be in regular communication with them.”
In Abdirahman-Khalif’s appeal, she said that Peek “was ‘imbalanced’ when summing up to the jury, giving more time to the prosecution case than to the defense case,” and “failed to properly present the defense case while summing up, meaning her chances of a fair trial ‘miscarried,'” among other assertions, according to The Advertiser.
The Australian Associated Press contributed to this report.