Melbourne 'terror group' in court

From: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6189117.stm

Dec 18, 2006

Thirteen men accused of belonging to a terrorist cell that was plotting an attack on Australian soil have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.

At a pre-trial hearing in Melbourne, they each denied a variety of offences, including being part of a terrorist group.

The men were among 18 suspects arrested last year in co-ordinated raids in Melbourne and Sydney.

It was the largest counter-terrorism operation staged in Australia.

At the time, police said a "potentially catastrophic attack" had been averted.

So far few details have emerged of the alleged attack plans, but police admitted they had been tracking the men for many months before launching the pre-dawn raid.

The other five people arrested during the operation are still awaiting trial in Sydney.

Ringleader

According to the Herald Sun newspaper, the 13 men in court on Monday face a variety of charges, including planning a jihad to force the Australian government to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, holding training camps in remote areas, collecting extremist Islamic material and attempting to buy bomb-making equipment.

The alleged ringleader of the group, Abdul Nacer Benbrika, also known as Abu Bakr, was one of those in court on Monday.

He made headlines last year when he told ABC News that he thought Osama bin Laden was "a great man".

According to the Herald Sun, the court heard that Mr Bakr was recorded by undercover investigators urging alleged group members to be patient, and saying "something big'' was going to happen.

"We have to do maximum damage... damage their buildings with everything and damage their lives," he is alleged to have said.

While the court heard that no target had been chosen for the attack before the arrests were made, there has been speculation in the Australian media that a nuclear research reactor near Sydney could have been a likely target.

There has never been a major terrorist attack on Australian soil, although 88 Australians died in the 2002 Bali bombings, and Australia's embassy in Indonesia was bombed in 2004.