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Australia: Terror suspects eyed nuclear reactor

Eight Sydney men arrested on terrorism charges may have been planning a bomb attack against the city’s nuclear reactor, police said on Monday.
Nuclear Reactor Identified As Possible Terrorist Target
The Lucas Heights nuclear reactor was named by police as a possible terrorist target.Ian Waldie / Getty Images
/ Source: Reuters

Eight Sydney men arrested on terrorism charges may have been planning a bomb attack against the city’s nuclear reactor, police said on Monday.

Their Islamic spiritual leader, also charged with terror offences, told the men if they wanted to die for jihad then they should inflict “maximum damage”, according to a a 21-page police court document.

The document outlines how the men, arrested last week in the nation’s biggest security swoop, bought chemicals used in the London July 7 bombs, had bomb-making instructions in Arabic and videos titled “Sheikh Osama’s Training Course” and “Are you ready to die?”

Under the heading “Targets”, police said three of the men were stopped near Sydney’s Lucas Heights nuclear reactor in December 2004. A security gate lock had recently been cut.

Australia, a staunch U.S. ally with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, has never suffered a major peacetime attack on home soil. The country has been on medium security alert since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States by Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network.

Documents outlining alleged training
The document said six of the men went on “hunting and camping trips”, which police described as jihad training camps, in the Australian outback in early 2005.

“This training is consistent with the modus operandi of terrorists prior to attacks,” the police document said.

Police said a Melbourne-based Muslim cleric, also arrested in the security swoop and charged with terror offences along with eight other men in Melbourne, was the spiritual leader of the Sydney and Melbourne groups.

Muslim teacher Abdul Nacer Benbrika, also known as Abu Bakr, gave “extremist advice and guidance”, the document said.

At a February meeting Benbrika talked to the Sydney men about fighting those who opposed Sharia law.

“If we want to die for jihad, we have to have a maximum damage. Maximum damage. Damage their buildings, everything. Damage their lives,” said Benbrika, according to the document.

Threat closes Brisbane transit
In the wake of the recent terror raid and several new telephone threats, bus and train services in the northern Australian city of Brisbane will be suspended for half an hour on Monday, authorities said.

Police told Reuters the transport system had been shut down for an hour from 11:45 a.m. after a telephone threat had been received. Buses and trains would again be stopped for 30 mins from 4:45 p.m. after another threat was made.

No further details were given on the nature of the threats.

“We’re being over-cautious because we’re not sure if they (the phone calls) are hoaxes or if they are real,” Queensland Premier Peter Beattie told a news conference.

“In light of what happened last week in Sydney and Melbourne, I think Queenslanders would want us to be over-cautious. We haven’t made this decision lightly.”

18 arrested in terror sweep
In Australia’s biggest counter-terrorism sweepp last week, 18 men were arrested and charged with offenses including acts in preparation of a terrorist attack, being a member of a terrorist group and conspiracy to commit a terrorist act.

Nine men were arrested in Melbourne and nine in Sydney. All have been remanded in custody. No pleas have been entered.

During Benbrika’s Melbourne court appearance last week, police said the cleric called bin Laden a “great man” that defends Muslims fighting U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Police told the court that the Melbourne men had also engaged in military-like training in rural Australia and that one man had expressed a desire to become a “martyr” in Australia.

The Australia Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) earlier this month said for the first time that Australia had home-grown extremists, some of whom trained overseas. Muslims make up 1.5 percent of Australia’s 20 million population.