Jury out for 23 days, terrorists face life

Oct. 16, 2009 at 2:08 PM
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SYDNEY, Oct. 16 (UPI) -- One of Australia's longest and most expensive trials ended with five men convicted on terrorist charges facing life in prison, Australia's media are reporting.

All five, who were arrested in raids on their homes in 2005, pleaded guilty to the charges at the start of their trial in Sydney in November. The terrorist quintet, aged between 25 and 44, "were convicted of conspiracy to do acts in preparation for a terrorist act or acts," according to a report in The Australian newspaper.

Their aim, Crown prosecution said, was to take revenge on Australia for its military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The cost of the New South Wales Police investigation and the taxpayer-funded legal aid defense of the five was around $27.5 million. The jury sat through 10 months of evidence, testimony from 300 witnesses and examined more than 3,000 exhibits.

The men had stockpiled 30,000 rounds of ammunition as well as bomb-making equipment and explosive chemicals. Police also found in the homes of the now-convicted terrorists extremist literature and so-called instructional DVDs for building homemade bombs as well as suicide bomb-belts, a report in the West Australian newspaper said.

The notorious Melbourne cleric Sheikh Bakr was secretly recorded telling some of the men they had to prepare to "die or be jailed," the West Australian noted.

"If we want to die for jihad we do maximum damage, maximum damage. Damage their buildings with everything, and damage their lives, just to show them," he said in one conversation played to the jury.

Police were reportedly tipped off initially by hardware stores that noticed the men buying increasingly large amounts of chemicals and numbers of guns.

The Australian newspaper report said that one of the men had links to the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba. The men were said to have attended a bush training paramilitary camp in isolated rural parts of the New South Wales state in preparation for violent jihad, police claimed.

A prosecution counsel said they had compiled a "tsunami" of evidence, according to The Australian.

But outside the courthouse relatives of the convicted were defiant.

One convicted man's brother told media that the trial means Australia will face more Jihad attacks. "If you really go through the case and the words in the brief, you'll know it's bullshit," he said. "If they think this will stop terrorism, imprisoning these people, I don't think it will stop terrorism. I think it will increase the threat on Australia."

The sister of another terrorist said her brother was not an extremist but a devote Muslim.

Sentencing of the five men begins in December.

The trial result comes after a massive counter-terrorism operation by police in early August that netted four Australian nationals who were quickly arrested for allegedly planning a suicide attack on an army base.

The men, some of Somali and Lebanese descent, allegedly have links to groups affiliated with the al-Shabaab terrorist organization in Somalia.

But the police predawn operation may claim another victim depending on the findings of a major investigation by the city of Victoria's Office of Police Integrity, according to a report by The Age newspaper. That victim could be the police themselves.

The investigation is focusing into possible misconduct by law enforcement officers regarding an alleged leak of sensitive information over the terror raids, The Age newspaper reported at the time.

The Australian Federal Police said their efforts foiled the most serious planned terrorist attack ever on Australian soil. More than 400 officers from the AFP, Victoria Police, New South Wales Police and NSW Crime Commission and the Australian Security Intelligence Organization took part in the raid.

But Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Simon Overland said he was ''extremely disappointed'' that details of the operation were leaked to a newspaper before the raids were done.

He said copies of The Australian newspaper, which reported about the raids, were available on Melbourne streets at 1:30 a.m., well before warrants were executed. "This, in my view, represents an unacceptable risk to the operation, an unacceptable risk to my staff.''

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