Aussie terrorist’s dishevelled look in court
IN MANY ways, the court in the city of Kilis in south-central Turkey is like any other. It's not a happy place for most of the people who walk through the doors.
On Thursday morning, a fight between two families spilled onto the street. A woman was being punched and kicked by a number of men, and she was fighting back. Police ran in, one officer cocked his gun. The parties dispersed.
Then, from across the street I heard a thud, and turned to see that same woman, and one of her male companions (possibly a brother, husband or son) emerge from a vehicle. They'd seemingly gone and got their car and rundown one of her attackers. He lay on the ground, screaming.
Even more police arrive, in cars, on motorbikes. Lights and sirens blaring. This time they're carrying AK-47's. There's more yelling, more anger.
I've seen plenty of scraps between families at Australian courts, but in Kilis, everything is heightened. Including the arguments between opposing families. This is just another day, another case in Kilis Court.
I've now travelled to the dusty place, just minutes from the Syrian border, four times.
It is a city uneasy in its location.
On our visit in February, Operation Olive Branch was in full swing. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's attempt to push Islamic State and rebel groups away from the Turkish border.
One lunchtime, a succession of cars and utes honking their horns drove through town. Turkish flags fluttered from the open windows, as did real olive branches. Overt support for the military operation, which you cannot miss. Every 20 minutes or so, we heard the 'boom' of another air strike just over the border.
And each time we visit, we hear complaints from locals about the impacts of Syrian refugees on their community. In April last year, they were pushing down wages because they were prepared to work for nothing. This week, a kebab shop owner complained of a water shortage because the extra residents had put a strain on infrastructure.
The huge gates on the border, just down the road from the city centre, attempt to keep out refugees from the civil war in Syria out; the refugee camps are just inside Syrian territory. The gates are also meant to keep out terrorists. Returning foreign fighters who joined Islamic State, or those who've been trained to carry out attacks in Turkey and the West.
So, when an accused terrorist appears in the court in Kilis, it's not terribly unusual.
Like in Australia, the court list is pinned to a notice board just outside the court room.
Listed to appear in court 2 at 11.10am on Thursday were four men. A joint appearance, all accused of being a member of a terrorist organisation and spreading terrorist propaganda.
And listed just below, a name that stood out from the rest, the only one with a Western sounding name. Neil Christopher Prakash. Listed for 11.30am.
Another court appearance for the Cambodian-Australian, who Canberra failed to have extradited home.
This time, he has a new lawyer appointed by the court who is yet to meet his client, who has languished in a Turkish gaol cell for nearly two years.
We file into court four and a half hours late because the court couldn't find an English interpreter until a local school teacher finished lessons for the day and could make it to the court house.
And when we are in there, the airconditioning is turned off. There is a collective sigh of concern. This will be uncomfortable.
Not as uncomfortable as life for Neil Prakash is, who becomes visible on the television screen attached to the court wall. He's appearing via video link from the nearby jail.
Walking towards the camera, he sits down, rubs his face. It looks like he's been woken from a deep slumber. Dressed in a maroon T-shirt, his black hair is cropped, his beard trimmed.
Through the broken English of the teacher-turned-court translator, the interrogation begins. Prakash is referred to by his middle name, Chris.
The judges questions last 35 minutes.
How long were you a member of Islamic State in Syria?
Have you ever done army education or religious lessons with them?
Have you been in a battle or have you used weapons?
Prakash's narrative has changed while he's been in custody.
Today the consistent tone of his answers is that he is regretful.
He claims that he travelled to Syria in 2013 "because I saw the Syrian people were in trouble, people were being bombed".
He explains his journey as a "new Muslim" from Australia via Istanbul, then a bus to Hatay, and a taxi to the border town Reyhanli, before crossing the border into Syria and first joining Ahrar-al-Sham, a rebel group fighting the Assad regime.
Then, he apparently ran into Australians who had already joined Islamic State in Syria, signed up to the deadly terror group, then was forced to the appear in their recruitment videos that circulated online.
And once he wanted to leave, he claims his life was at risk, and he ran.
The court is shown a photo of Prakash holding a Kalishnikov rifle. Under duress according to Prakash, just like all those videos he made calling for jihad. He looks and sounds like a fighter, but denies he was.
Prakash sounds like a child who's found himself in over his head. A nervous, doubtful Australian accent cutting through the chaos of the Turkish court.
What isn't mentioned is the claims of the Australian Government, which has been forced to observer status in this process (there are two consular staff watching on) after losing an extradition application.
Canberra contests the Melbourne-born Prakash was more than a man who lost his way with Islamic State. He was a crucial influencer, who helped radicalise the teens who carried out attacks in Melbourne and Sydney.
Australia won't get a chance to put Prakash on trial for up to 15 years. That's how long he faces in a Turkish prison if he's convicted here in Kilis. "You will be a prisoner for a while, if you like, you can give information on the organisation of Islamic State," the judge says. "You can give information in written form."
Homework for Prakash before he returns to court in December.
"I don't know anything about them," he says, after earlier saying he spent three years with the most feared terror group on the planet, including time in their self professed capital, Raqqa.
Hugh Whitfeld is Seven News Europe cureau chief, currently reporting from Turkey. See his reports in Seven News live at 6pm.