DAVID HURLEY: Well, good morning ladies and gentlemen. I'm pleased to inform you that overnight I received confirmation the former Afghan National Army Sergeant accused of murdering three Australian soldiers in August 2012 is in custody in Afghanistan. Former Sergeant Hekmatullah was apprehended by the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, in Pakistan and subsequently deported to Afghanistan through the efforts of the Afghan National Directive of Security and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We now expect to him face trial for the murder of Lance Corporal Stjepan Milosevic, Sapper James Martin and Private Robert Poate during an insider attack at Patrol Base Wahab in Afghanistan. Two other Australian soldiers were also wounded in this cowardly attack.
We have spoken to the fallen soldiers' family to tell them about Hekmatullah's capture. This was bittersweet news for the families. On the one hand, there is a great sense of relief but it will not change history. This news comes at a particularly difficult time for the families, so close to the anniversary of the event. I extend my deepest sympathy to them and we will continue to support them as they come to terms with this latest development, and I ask also that you respect the families' right to privacy as they do so. While there is a legal process to follow, the families have expressed their sincere gratitude for those who Australians who have worked diligently and relentlessly to assure the man accused of murdering these three Australians faces justice.
I echo their thanks, not only to the ADF members involved but to those from other agencies who have provided crucial support, particularly the Australian Secret Intelligence Service and the Defence Intelligence Organisation with the assistance of the Australian Signals Directorate and the Australian Geospatial Intelligence Organisation. ASIS and DIO have worked closely with ISI and NDS over the past six months to facilitate Hekmatullah's detention and deportation. We greatly appreciate their efforts to date and will continue to cooperate with Afghan authorities as they prosecute the allegations against Hekmatullah under Afghan law.
Noting the international dimension and the legal sensitivities associated with this matter, there are some aspects of the case that I can't discuss publicly. However, to give you some background, in February this year, Pakistani authorities formally advised Australia that Hekmatullah was in custody in Pakistan. Since that time, the Pakistani Government has been working to establish an appropriate transfer arrangement to return Hekmatullah to Afghanistan. While of course we have an interest in the case, obviously the transfer arrangements were a matter for the Pakistani and Afghan Governments. As a result, it would have been inappropriate and possibly detrimental for Defence to disclose Hekmatullah's apprehension until the transfer to Afghanistan authorities was complete.
Hekmatullah's capture draws a line under the four insider attacks on Australian personnel. Those responsible for the deaths of seven Australian soldiers and who wounded another 10 have been captured or killed and no longer pose a threat to our people. We have been quite determined in our efforts to pursue those who have murdered and wounded our people and we will continue to cooperate with Afghan authorities as they prosecute the case for justice for these Australians.
Thank you. I'm happy to take any questions.
QUESTION: Can you give us any more information about the circumstances of his apprehension and whether Australian officials, intelligence officials or law enforcement officials were actually involved in gathering the information to apprehend him?
DAVID HURLEY: This was a cooperative activity between us and the Pakistan authorities where we were able to provide some information that they were able to act on.
QUESTION: General, you have said that ASIS and the Australian Signals Directorate were - you thanked them for their help in this matter. That seems to suggest that maybe Australian authorities were involved in some way tracking him electronically. Is that the case? Can you give details on that?
DAVID HURLEY: Well, I think you're aware of some of the capabilities those organisations and institutions bring into the field so we used what we had available in Afghanistan at the time, provided information to the Pakistanis which they were able to act on.
QUESTION: And also I assume facing trial in Afghanistan - I'm not clear - does that mean he could face the death penalty if found guilty of murder?
DAVID HURLEY: That's a possibility under Afghan law, yes.
QUESTION: Do you expect ADF personnel to appear as witnesses?
DAVID HURLEY: We are not sure how the court case or that process will work forward at the present time, but we will provide assistance as requested.
QUESTION: Can you tell us how long he was in Pakistan before he was apprehended and what he was doing and where he was apprehended?
DAVID HURLEY: Really don't want to go too far into that information other than to say we were advised of the apprehension in February of this year.
QUESTION: So you say that the apprehension was in February. What was the delay then in getting him handed over to Afghan officials? Why was it such a lengthy process?
DAVID HURLEY: This was - if you look at the relationships that exist in the region, I think there was a number of issues being played through in Pakistan as well. They had elections, other activities going on with the Afghan Government. I think they were just working their way through to find both a process for this handover to occur and when would be the appropriate time.
QUESTION: Did the families find out now or six - or back in February?
DAVID HURLEY: No, today.
QUESTION: Was there any frustration about that wait?
DAVID HURLEY: No, not that I'm aware of.
QUESTION: [Inaudible question]
DAVID HURLEY: We have responded to the requests for information to the requests for information to date and I don't think there has been any since our last - probably since the provision of the inquiry officer's report.
QUESTION: He has been in custody for a while. In that time, has he given Pakistani authorities any indication as to why he did what he did?
DAVID HURLEY: We don't have any statements of that intent or motive at the moment.
QUESTION: How was he apprehended? Was there a raid or was...?
DAVID HURLEY: I think that's a question best left for the Pakistan authorities about how they do their business.
QUESTION: [Inaudible question]
DAVID HURLEY: No. Any reductions or changes to security status at our bases is done after a proper physical security assessment and it is not based on budget reductions.
QUESTION: [Inaudible question]
DAVID HURLEY: Well, if I told you what we were doing with our security, it would not be a security program, so at the moment, we're just working through what the assessments mean to us and how we would align the security arrangements.
QUESTION: Can you give us your latest information about Hekmatullah's involvement with the Taliban? I think it has always been suspected he was a member of the Taliban or that he was involved. Can you give us your latest information?
DAVID HURLEY: I think we are still in the same place. It is speculation.
QUESTION: You said that there were sensitivities surrounding elections in Pakistan and whatnot. Was there a concern that if word got out that he had been captured in Pakistan, that maybe his deportation might be prevented and might be stopped from happening given there are some sympathies for the Taliban in Pakistan?
DAVID HURLEY: I think that's really an issue for both the Afghan and Pakistani authorities because they had to work through their process about how this would be achieved. We were not involved in that process.
QUESTION: When is the trial expected to start and can you walk us through the process?
DAVID HURLEY: He has only been received in custody today, so we'll now need to engage with Afghan authorities to find out what the sequence will be. So giving you a time line, I've got no idea at the moment.
QUESTION: Is it your understanding that that would be a - you said Afghan law earlier, it's not a military trial...
DAVID HURLEY: Again, I don't know how that will play out, but it will be conducted under Afghan law, whether that is in military or in the civilian jurisdiction, we're not sure yet.
QUESTION: Will Australian intelligence officers or the Defence Department seek to access him before the trial to interview him in some way, to find out exactly why he did what he did?