(AFP) – Sep 14, 2008
MELBOURNE (AFP) — A firebrand Muslim cleric was Monday found guilty of leading a terrorist group after Australia's largest terror trial in which 12 men were accused of plotting attacks on the country.
A jury found cleric Abdul Nacer Benbrika guilty on all counts, including being a leader and a member of a Melbourne terror cell. It also found five other men guilty of being members of the group, a court heard.
After a trial lasting more than seven months, a further four suspects were cleared of planning terrorist acts in Melbourne, involving the detonation of an explosive or use of weapons.
The jury was unable to deliver verdicts on two other men.
Benbrika showed no emotion as the jury delivered a guilty verdict on charges of intentionally directing the activities of a terrorist organisation and of being a member of a terrorist organisation.
The jury heard that Benbrika, 48, urged his followers to target football matches or a train station and kill 1,000 people to make Australia withdraw soldiers from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He had told his followers it was "permissible to kill women, children and the aged," prosecutors had told the panel.
Benbrika had suggested, during taped telephone calls, a bombing where the maximum loss of life could be inflicted, prosecutor Richard Maidment had told the trial.
Maidment had said the case was about "a home-grown terrorist organisation" and that Benbrika had urged the group to do "something big" to pressure the Australian government to pull its troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The prosecutor also said material, including literature on how to make bombs and video tapes with messages from Osama Bin Laden, were seized from the group by police.
But defence lawyers argued the men were not terrorists, but young men learning about Islam from a self-styled sheikh who, "couldn't organise a booze-up in a brewery".
Benbrika's defence lawyer, Remy Ven de Wiel, told the court Benbrika was a braggart and did nothing more than talk about jihad.
"The Muslims in Australia have a sense of powerlessness and political impotence and they express themselves," Van de Wiel had told the jury.
Jurors found Aimen Joud, 23, Fadl Sayadi, 28, Abdullah Merhi, 22, Ezzit Raad, 26, and Ahmed Raad, 24 guilty of being members of a terrorist organisation.
Ahmed Raad, Ezzit Raad and Joud were also found guilty of intentionally making funds available to a terrorist organisation, while Joud and Benbrika were found guilty of possessing a CD connected with the preparation of terrorist act.
Not guilty were Hany Taha, 33, Bassam Raad, 26, Majed Raad, 23, and Shoue Hammoud.
The jury was unable to reach verdicts on charges against Shane Kent, 31, and 28-year-old Amer Haddara.
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