Monday, February 15, 2010

Australia's jihad attack plotters jailed up to 28 years

SYDNEY — Five Muslims who plotted an attack using guns and explosives to protest against Australia's part in the "war on terror" were jailed for up to 28 years Monday, after the country's longest extremism trial.

The men, who cannot be named, were convicted in October of gathering firearms, chemicals and bomb-making instructions, along with a mass of Islamist propaganda, for the attack on an unknown target.

Justice Anthony Whealy, who handed down the sentences at a purpose-built courthouse in Sydney's west, said the plans were "often lacking in cleverness" but were well advanced when the five were arrested in 2005.

"There is no reason to doubt that, absent the intervention of the authorities, the plan might well have come to fruition in early 2006 or thereabouts," Whealy told the hearing of New South Wales Supreme Court.

The men from Sydney, who are Australian citizens of Lebanese, Libyan and Bangladeshi descent, were handed maximum terms of 23 to 28 years, with the shortest non-parole period being 17 years and three months.

The five, aged 25 to 44, showed little emotion and some of them smiled at each other when Whealy left court.

"That's a very big sentence -- not even murderers get sentenced that much," the sister of one of the men told reporters.

"Twenty-three years, that's half of his life. It's not fair to him, our community or our religion."

The judge had said there was overwhelming evidence they wanted to create "at the very least, serious damage to property" and posed a "serious risk" to the public, although it was not clear that they intended to kill.

"On occasions they were inept and clumsy, but these factors did not make their conspiracy any the less dangerous," he said.

Australia's former conservative government was closely aligned to the policies of former US president George W. Bush, and the country was one of the first to commit troops to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The five took Australia's involvement in those conflicts as "acts of aggression against the wider Muslim community", prosecutor Richard Maidment told the court earlier.

They spent months collecting chemicals, firearms and ammunition, and raids on their homes found "large quantities of literature which supported indiscriminate killing, mass murder and martyrdom in pursuit of violent jihad".

The men had pictures and videos showing the hijacked aircraft smashing into the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001, as well as beheadings and death on the battlefield, Maidment said.

They also had documents glorifying Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and showing how to make a pipe-bomb with common ingredients such as citric acid and hair bleach, he said.

The court was shown more than 3,000 exhibits and heard from about 300 witnesses during the 10-month trial. However, the jury was spared being shown footage of hostages being executed by Muslim extremists.

"These were particularly distressing and graphic. It is impossible to imagine that any civilised person could watch these videos," Whealy said. "So disturbing were they, that none of the executions was shown to the jury."

Lawyers for the five, at least one of whom is set to appeal, had argued there were innocent explanations for much of the material and labelled the case "propagandist".

Four co-conspirators pleaded guilty and were sentenced earlier. In August five other men were arrested and charged over an alleged plot to attack a Sydney military barracks.

The 92 million dollar (82 million US) court complex was described as "Fort Knox" by ex-state premier Morris Iemma when he opened it in 2008. It includes two high-security courts with docks shielded by shatter-proof glass, and 500 CCTV cameras.

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