Musa Cerantonio is an Australian Islamist preacher who has inspired numerous foreign fighters to join jihadist groups in Syria. According to the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), Cerantonio is “an outspoken cheerleader for ISIS”Joseph A. Carter, Shiraz Maher, and Peter R. Neumann, “#Greenbirds: Measuring Importance and Influence in Syrian Foreign Fighter Networks,” International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, April 2014, 2, http://icsr.info/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/ICSR-Report-Greenbirds-Measuring-Importance-and-Infleunce-in-Syrian-Foreign-Fighter-Networks.pdf. and one of two English-speaking “spiritual authorities” influencing Westerners to fight abroad.Joseph A. Carter, Shiraz Maher, and Peter R. Neumann, “#Greenbirds: Measuring Importance and Influence in Syrian Foreign Fighter Networks,” International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, April 2014, 82, http://icsr.info/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/ICSR-Report-Greenbirds-Measuring-Importance-and-Infleunce-in-Syrian-Foreign-Fighter-Networks.pdf. Australian police arrested Cerantonio and four others in May 2016 for allegedly preparing to sail to Indonesia with the intent of reaching Syria to join ISIS.Michael Safi and Josh Robertson, “Musa Cerantonio among men arrested after allegedly trying to sail to Indonesia,” Guardian (London), May 11, 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/may/11/musa-cerantonio-among-men-arrested-after-allegedly-trying-to-sail-to-indonesia; “Leader of Australia's ‘tinnie terror’ plot jailed for 7 years,” Reuters, May 3, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-australia-security-court/leader-of-australias-tinnie-terror-plot-jailed-for-7-years-idUSKCN1S90OH. In 2019, Cerantonio pled guilty to plotting violence in a foreign country and was sentenced to seven years in prison.Rohan Smith, “Leader of ‘tinnie terror’ plot Robert Cerantonio jailed over 2016 plot,” News.com.au, May 3, 2019, https://www.news.com.au/national/victoria/courts-law/leader-of-tinnie-terror-plot-robert-cerantonio-jailed-over-2016-plot/news-story/11ae7412dd3b4a329bf5f027e805a634.
Before his arrest, Cerantonio had long corresponded with ISIS fighters through social media.John Safran, “Musa Cerantonio: Muslim convert and radical supporter of Islamic State,” Sydney Morning Herald, January 17, 2015, http://www.smh.com.au/good-weekend/musa-cerantonio-muslim-convert-and-radical-supporter-of-islamic-state-20150116-121c8s.html. He frequently used social media to call for the assassination of U.S. leadersShiv Malik and Michael Safi, “Revealed: the radical clerics using social media to back British jihadists in Syria,” Guardian, April 15, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/15/preachers-spiritual-cheerleaders-social-media-syria-london-university. and praise jihadists in Syria.
In 2013, Cerantonio hosted the English-language show “Ask the Sheikh,” in which he answered questions on sharia (Islamic law) from viewers around the world. The program aired on the Saudi satellite network Iqraa, and was available in Austria, Africa, Asia, the U.S., and Europe.“Australian Islamist Musa Cerantonio Glorifies Jihad, Supports Jabhat Al-Nusra In Syria,” Middle East Media Research Institute, March 11, 2013, http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/7070.htm.
Cerantonio moved to the Philippines in 2013John Safran, “Musa Cerantonio: Muslim convert and radical supporter of Islamic State,” Sydney Morning Herald, January 17, 2015, http://www.smh.com.au/good-weekend/musa-cerantonio-muslim-convert-and-radical-supporter-of-islamic-state-20150116-121c8s.html; Alex White, “Hate cleric Musa Cerantonio had been a Catholic,” Herald Sun, July 11, 2014, http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/law-order/hate-cleric-musa-cerantonio-had-been-a-catholic/story-fni0fee2-1226986227281. where he used YouTube to call for jihad and praise ISIS, according to the Philippine police who deported Cerantonio in July 2014.“Philippines deports Australian Islamic preacher,” Associated Press, July 24, 2014, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/philippines-deports-australian-islamic-preacher. Australian authorities have called Cerantonio’s social media posts “offensive and disturbing” but said they do not violate Australian law.Matt Siegel, “Australian Islamist returns home to surveillance, not jail,” Reuters, July 22, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/07/23/us-australia-islamist-idUSKBN0FS04S20140723. His Twitter and Facebook accounts have been shut down but many of his videos remain on YouTube.
Born Robert Cerantonio to an Irish-Catholic family, Cerantonio converted to Islam when he was 17 years old.Melissa Hills, “‘You CAN go to paradise even if you are killed by a woman’: Aussie hate preacher dismisses ISIS fears of ‘virgin-less heaven’ if they are killed by Kurdish female fighters,” Daily Mail, November 7, 2014, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2825314/Australian-hate-preacher-posts-new-extremist-messages-online-telling-fighters-Paradise-die-Islamic-faith.html. Cerantonio is an aficionado of Islamic history. In particular, he enjoys retelling the story of “when the Muslims fought Dracula,” the death of Ottoman leader Muhammad al-Fateh at the hands of Vlad the Impaler. He married a Filipino woman, Joan Montayre, who remained in the Philippines after he was deported in July 2014. He also has two daughters from a previous marriage to a Lebanese woman in Australia.John Safran, “Musa Cerantonio: Muslim convert and radical supporter of Islamic State,” Sydney Morning Herald, January 17, 2015, http://www.smh.com.au/good-weekend/musa-cerantonio-muslim-convert-and-radical-supporter-of-islamic-state-20150116-121c8s.html.
Cerantonio has been largely quiet on social media since he returned to Australia. In January 2016, media reports revealed that he was maintaining an Instagram account under an alias after he posted a picture of himself at the Vatican holding a black flag with the Arabic for “There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is the messenger of Allah.” The picture was reportedly up to four years old. Cerantonio largely posted pictures of himself on the account, according to reports. As of April 2016, he reportedly had 127 followers on Instagram and followed 178 accounts, mostly belonging to ISIS supporters.Candace Sutton, “Australian jihadi extremist returns to social media preaching with photo holding Islamic flag outside the Vatican to promote view that 'Christians don't deserve churches,’” Daily Mail, January 6, 2016, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3387835/Australian-jihadi-extremist-returns-social-media-preaching-photo-holding-Islamic-flag-outside-Vatican-promote-view-Christians-don-t-deserve-churches.html;
“Pro-ISIS Australian Cleric Musa Cerantonio Active on Instagram,” MEMRI, April 8, 2016, http://cjlab.memri.org/lab-projects/tracking-jihadi-terrorist-use-of-social-media/pro-isis-australian-cleric-musa-cerantonio-active-on-instagram/.
Australian federal police arrested Cerantonio and four other Australian men on May 10, 2016, on the suspicion that they were planning to sail to Indonesia. The group had towed a seven-meter boat for at least 31 hours from Melbourne to Cape York in Queensland when police arrested them. The group reportedly bought the boat in Melbourne, and it appeared to be at least 30 years old. It was the first known attempt by would-be foreign fighters to leave the country by boat, according to Attorney General George Brandis.Michael Safi and Josh Robertson, “Musa Cerantonio among men arrested after allegedly trying to sail to Indonesia,” Guardian (London), May 11, 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/may/11/musa-cerantonio-among-men-arrested-after-allegedly-trying-to-sail-to-indonesia;
Dan Oakes and Sam Clark, “Islamic preacher Musa Cerantonio among five arrested over alleged plan to join Islamic State,” Australian Broadcasting Corporation, May 11, 2016, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-11/preacher-among-five-arrested-over-alleged-plan-to-join-is/7403344.
According to Australian police, the five were “very committed” to getting to Syria.Paul Farrell, Melissa Davey, and Joshua Robertson, “Police foil alleged jihadi plot to sail dinghy from Australia to Indonesia,” Guardian (London), May 10, 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/may/11/police-foil-alleged-jihadi-plot-to-sail-dinghy-from-australia-to-indonesia. Arrested with Cerantonio were Kadir Kaya, Shayden Thorne, and two unnamed men. All five had previously had their passports revoked.Michael Safi and Josh Robertson, “Musa Cerantonio among men arrested after allegedly trying to sail to Indonesia,” Guardian (London), May 11, 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/may/11/musa-cerantonio-among-men-arrested-after-allegedly-trying-to-sail-to-indonesia. Ten search warrants were issued in Melbourne and Queensland in connection to the investigation.Australian Associated Press, “Men charged over alleged terrorism boat plot to be extradited to Melbourne,” Guardian (London), May 16, 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/may/16/men-charged-over-alleged-terrorism-boat-plot-to-be-extradited-to-melbourne. According to Shane Patton, deputy commissioner of the Victoria police, the five are a “security interest” and police are investigating their intentions to become foreign fighters in Syria.Michael Safi and Josh Robertson, “Musa Cerantonio among men arrested after allegedly trying to sail to Indonesia,” Guardian (London), May 11, 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/may/11/musa-cerantonio-among-men-arrested-after-allegedly-trying-to-sail-to-indonesia. Cerantonio and the other four men were charged with “making preparations for incursions into foreign countries for the purpose of engaging in hostile activities.” The charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.Agence France-Presse, “Five face terror charges over Australia-Syria boat plan,” Telegraph (London), May 15, 2016, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/15/five-face-terror-charges-over-australia-syria-boat-plan/.
The Brothers Behind Bars Facebook page has called for donations to pay for the legal fees of Cerantonio and his four alleged co-conspirators. The group’s goal is to “provide community support for incarcerated Muslims in Australia.”Brothers Behind Bars, Facebook page, accessed May 17, 2016, https://www.facebook.com/Brothers-Behind-Bars-883478791762874/?fref=nf. Radical British preacher Abu Haleema also uploaded a YouTube video chastising Australian imams for “remaining silent” while Cerantonio is “oppressed” by the Australian government.“Muslim Prisoners || Musa Cerantonio || Abu Haleema @3Abu11H,” YouTube video, 3:54, posted by Abu Haleema Media, May 15, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SztvKSMtmxs.
In February 2019, Cerantonio and his four co-conspirators pled guilty to engaging in conduct in preparation for hostile activities in a foreign country. Co-defendants Paul Dacre, Antonino Granata, and Kadir Kaya were each sentenced to four years in prison, while Murat Kaya was sentenced to three years and eight months. Justice Michael Croucher said the four men would not have been involved if not for the “charismatic” Cerantonio.Emma Younger, “Influential Philippines plot ringleader not stereotypical Islamic extremist, court hears,” Australian Broadcasting Corporation, March 15, 2019, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-03-15/robert-cerantonio-phillipines-incursion-boat-plea-hearing/10905442; Agence France-Presse, “‘Tinnie terrorists’ jailed in Australia for Philippines boat plot,” Yahoo News, February 22, 2018, https://news.yahoo.com/tinnie-terrorists-jailed-australia-philippines-boat-plot-083357281.html; “Australian judge jails extremist for Philippines boat plot,” Associated Press, May 3, 2019, https://www.apnews.com/8d99f6084e414c3bb2f459501bdb2bd0. On May 3, 2019, Cerantonio was sentenced to seven years in prison with a minimum non-parole period of five years and three months.Rohan Smith, “Leader of ‘tinnie terror’ plot Robert Cerantonio jailed over 2016 plot,” News.com.au, May 3, 2019, https://www.news.com.au/national/victoria/courts-law/leader-of-tinnie-terror-plot-robert-cerantonio-jailed-over-2016-plot/news-story/11ae7412dd3b4a329bf5f027e805a634.