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Australian police say arrests disrupt terror ring

/ Source: The Associated Press

The arrests of three alleged terror suspects in the southern city of Melbourne seriously disrupted the activities of a group that was planning a major attack in Australia, police said Saturday.

The three men arrested late Friday were charged with being members of an terrorist organization and intentionally making funds available to a terrorist organization, police said. The charges carry maximum penalties of 25 years in prison.

Neither the suspects nor the organization were named ahead of a court appearance scheduled for Monday.

Police said the arrests were part of an operation that netted 19 terror suspects in raids in Melbourne and Sydney in November.

The latest arrests “have seriously disrupted the activities of a group allegedly making arrangements to carry out a terrorist attack in Australia,” Victoria state Police Commissioner Christine Nixon told reporters in Melbourne, which is part of the state.

She said the terror suspects had yet to choose their targets.

“We’re confident the measures were in place to ensure the community’s safety was guaranteed,” she said.

Police: Men posed a ‘significant threat’
Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Frank Prendergast said the joint police raids on Friday had disrupted a “significant threat” to the public and more arrests were possible.

The suspects’ lawyer, Rob Stary, who also represents 10 men arrested in the November sweep, said all his clients had attended the same prayer group of a prominent radical Muslim cleric sympathetic to Osama bin Laden.

“The point of common interest between them is that they’ve all been members of the same prayer group,” Stary told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

The three were scheduled to appear in a Melbourne Magistrates Court on Monday.

Unsourced media reports Saturday said the three were devotees of self-styled cleric Abdul Nacer Benbrika, who is one of the original 10 defendants.

Police allege Algerian-born Benbrika, also known as Abu Bakr, was the spiritual leader of terror cells in Melbourne and Sydney.