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Australia finds 6 guilty of plotting 'violent jihad'

An Australian jury found a Muslim cleric and five of his followers guilty on Monday of planning to stage a "violent jihad" in Melbourne in 2005 to force Australian troops out of Iraq.
Image: Raad leaves a Melbourne court with an unidentified man after being found not guilty of being a member of a terrorist organisation
Majed Raad, right, leaves a Melbourne court Monday after being found not guilty of being a member of a terrorist organisation.Mick Tsikas / Reuters
/ Source: Reuters

An Australian jury found a Muslim cleric and five of his followers guilty on Monday of planning to stage a "violent jihad" in Melbourne in 2005 to force Australian troops out of Iraq.

But the jury in Australia's biggest terrorism trial acquitted four other Muslim men and could not decide on the fate of two others after deliberating for four weeks, court officials said.

The prosecutor told the Victoria state Supreme Court that the group had planned to attack a grand final football match in Australia's second-largest city, Melbourne, attended by 97,000 fans. The attack did not take place.

The jury heard that Muslim cleric Abdul Benbrika, 48, and his followers planned the bomb attack on an Australian Football League grand final, but security raids on the homes of some members forced the group to change its target.

Australia has never suffered a peacetime attack on home soil, but more than 90 Australians were killed in bombings on the Indonesian resort island of Bali since 2002.

Benbrika was found guilty of leading and being a member of an unnamed terrorist body, while his five followers were guilty of being members of a terrorist group.

All 12 men were charged with being members of an unnamed terrorist organization and planning to use explosives or weapons for an undisclosed terrorist act, with the intention of coercing a government or intimidating the public.

Praise for bin Laden
The prosecutor told the trial that Benbrika had praised al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden as a "great man" and told his followers that killing women and children was permissible.

One of the group had discussed killing then Prime Minister John Howard, a staunch ally and friend of President Bush, during a religious lesson, said the prosecutor.

He said an undercover police agent who infiltrated the group said Benbrika had asked if he could be shown how to make explosives using ammonium nitrate and asked how much explosive was needed to destroy a house and large building.

The prosecutor said literature on how to make bombs, video tapes with messages from Osama bin Laden and videos of beheadings were seized from the men's homes during police raids.

But defense lawyers said the 12 men were not terrorists and did not have weapons, explosives or ammunition.

Conversations taped
The lawyers said secretly taped conversations between Benbrika and the other men merely reflected their frustration at the treatment of Muslims in the Middle East.

The judge had told jurors not to let prejudices towards Muslims cloud their judgment when deciding whether the 12 Australians were a terrorist gang which planned to use violence to force Australian troops from Iraq.

Australia withdrew its 550 combat troops from Iraq in June 2008, but still has about 1,000 troops in Afghanistan.

After the verdicts were delivered, the four men found not guilty hugged each other and patted each other on the back, before walking free from the court.