Brother of Australia cricketer arrested over fake terror ‘hit list’

The brother of Australian test cricketer Usman Khawaja has been charged after allegedly faking a terror plot to frame a university colleague who was a rival for the affections of a student.

In a “horrible” case that has proven embarrassing for police, Arsalan Tariq Khawaja, 39, allegedly crafted a notebook detailing plans to kill then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and two prominent MPs, as well as a blueprint to target Sydney landmarks such as the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.

The notebook was found in an office at the University of New South Wales in Sydney and eventually led police to charge Kamer Nilar Nizamdeen, a 25-year-old PhD student from Sri Lanka who was working as a business analyst in the university’s IT department. 

Mr Nizamdeen spent a month in solitary confinement at Goulburn supermax jail, the nation’s highest security prison and home to notorious mass murderers, terrorists and serial killers,  such as the “backpacker killer” Ivan Milat.

Handwriting experts concluded that Mr Nizamdeen had not written the notebook. He was freed in October and returned to Sri Lanka, where he was greeted as a hero and accused the Australian Federal Police of being “immature, unprofessional, irresponsible, embarrassing and biased”.

On Tuesday, police accused the brother of Usman Khawaja, a left-handed test batsman and the first Muslim to play for Australia, of creating the notebook as a hoax to set up Mr Nizamdeen.

The cricketer, who was in Adelaide to prepare for a test against India, told reporters: “I won’t be saying much, guys. It is a matter for police to deal with. Out of respect for the process it’d be inappropriate for me to make any further comment.”

The batsman, who was born in Pakistan, was apparently informed about his older brother’s arrest by a Cricket Australia official after completing a hit in the nets. He reportedly continued to train before calmly speaking to journalists.

Fairfax Media cricket correspondent Andrew Wu wrote: “Whatever angst he may have been feeling inside, he hid well… You want a tough Australian cricketer? Look no further.”

Meanwhile, in Sydney, police said Arsalan Tariq Khawaja framed his colleague out of a "personal grievance" over a 21-year-old woman. He allegedly pretended to security guards at the university that he had found the notebook and claimed it was written by Mr Nizamdeen.

Khawaja, who remained silent in court, was granted bail but ordered to surrender his passport, keep 100 metres away from the university, and to not contact colleagues in the  IT department.

Police reportedly searched Khawaja’s property and found evidence that he practiced mimicking Mr Nizamdeen’s handwriting.

New South Wales Police Assistant Commissioner Mick Willing said police "regretted the circumstances" which led to Mr Nizamdeen being jailed.

“We feel very sorry for him and what has happened to him …  we had to act early at the time, given the threats contained in that notebook,” he said.

"What we will be alleging is that he was set up in a planned and calculated manner, motivated, in part, by a personal grievance.”

Mr Nizamdeen is suing the Australian police. 

He told a press conference in Sri Lanka last month: “The whole saga has clearly ruined my future".

"I am completely exonerated, and I hope the media and the Sri Lankan public can help me pick up the pieces of my shattered life," he said.

Greg Barton, an expert on terrorism at Deakin University, told The Australian that the police’s handling of the case against Mr Nizamdeen was “inept, terribly cruel and horrible”.