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 Tuesday, 7 January, 2003, 07:52 GMT
Sydney Muslim leader faces charges
Sheik Taj El Din Al Hilaly, addressing thousands of anti-war demonstrators in Sydney, protesting against Australian involvement in a US-led military attack on Iraq, November 2002
The cleric's lawyer says he is considering suing police
A senior Australian Muslim faces charges of resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer, in a case that could further raise community tensions.

Sheik Taj El Din Al Hilaly has accused police of overreacting during the incident in Sydney on Monday, when the cleric was stopped during a traffic check and found to be driving an unregistered and uninsured car.

If it my mistake, a small mistake, but the police officer, he did a big mistake

Sheik Taj El Din Al Hilaly
New South Wales police said the cleric was initially stopped because a piece of metal was protruding from one of the windows, though Mr Hilaly says it was a piece of soft plastic.

The arrest comes at a time of raised tensions among Australia's Muslim community, which says it has been targeted by security officials since the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US, and last October's Bali bombings.

Following the Bali bomb, in which 88 Australians were among nearly 200 people killed, the Australian Government put the country on terrorism alert and launched a series of police raids on the homes of Muslims suspected of having terrorist connections.

There were no reports of unrest in Sydney on Tuesday.

Hospital tests

Mr Hilaly, 62, is a naturalised Australian who arrived in the country from Egypt.

The row involving him broke out when a 23-year-old man came from a nearby building and starting arguing with police who were questioning the cleric, officials said.

During the altercation, Mr Hilaly complained of chest pains and was taken to a nearby hospital for tests before being released.

Lawyer Stephen Hopper said Mr Hilaly would "vigorously defend" the charges and was considering launching a civil suit against police.

"Police officer, he try to do his job but not through Australian way," Mr Hilaly told a television station on Tuesday. "I think he try the Chicago way, not Australian way.

"If it my mistake, a small mistake, but the police officer, he did a big mistake."

Police Superintendent John Richardson denied police had done anything wrong.

"I am satisfied with the actions that were taken and I am satisfied with the due processes put in place," he said.

Muslims make up about one percent of Australia's 19 million people.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Dominic Hughes reports from Sydney
"The car was neither registered nor insured"
See also:

27 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
31 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
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