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Last Updated: Friday, 23 April, 2004, 13:42 GMT 14:42 UK
Australia's terror fears

By Phil Mercer
BBC correspondent in Sydney

It is Australia's nuclear nightmare - a truck packed with explosives detonated at a reactor on the outskirts of its biggest city, Sydney. The blast and its radioactive aftermath kill hundreds, if not thousands, of people.

Dr Adam Cobb, an intelligence consultant and a former defence adviser to the Australian Government, believes such a plot has been foiled by a series of arrests by counter-terrorism officers.

Lucas Heights
Lucas Heights nuclear facility could have been a target

Thirty-four-year-old Faheem Khalid Lodhi has this week been charged with planning a terrorist attack and recruiting a terrorist group after being detained in Sydney. The authorities believe he was the leader of Kashmir-based militant organisation, Lashkar-e-Toiba, in Australia.

The Pakistani-born architect has also been charged with attempting to recruit a 21-year medical student Izhar Ul-Haque, who was arrested earlier this month and accused of receiving training from a militant organisation. Mr Ul-Haque faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

"It's quite clear this group was going to attack the nuclear facility (in Sydney). "It could've been a massive catastrophe," the former defence adviser said.

Lucas Heights is a nuclear research centre, 40km from the centre of Sydney.

The Australian Government has indicated the national electricity grid was on the suspect's hit list but Dr Cobb believes the nuclear site was also under threat.

"I'm convinced Lucas Heights was the target," he insisted.

Dr Cobb believes that at the heart of this conspiracy was a Frenchman, Willie Brigitte, whom the authorities believe Mr Lodhi to have had contact with.

Willie Brigitte
Willie Brigitte was believed to be plotting to attack major installations

He was in Australia for six months before he was deported in October 2003 for passport irregularities, but Mr Brigitte has been portrayed in the media as a dangerous international terrorist, with close links to the al-Qaeda hierarchy. He has been detained in France since his deportation but has denied any wrongdoing.

"In my judgement, his arrest was very significant," Adam Cobb told BBC News Online.

'Weak' case

Defence lawyer Stephen Hopper has insisted the cases against both Faheem Khalid Lodhi and Izhar Ul-Haque are weak and politically motivated.

This view is supported by Dr Andrew Vincent, from Macquarie University in Sydney.

He told the BBC the security services were "playing around with people's lives in a very dangerous way".

He believes the arrests are a cynical ploy by the government to "keep everyone thinking we're in great danger" ahead of a federal election expected later this year.

In the past, voters around the world have often turned to the incumbent during times of crisis or uncertainty.

The FBI has said an attack on Australia is "inevitable". Adam Cobb believes the list of possible targets is long.

Special forces commandos parachute into Sydney Harbour during a recruitment drive by the Australian Defence Force
High-profile places, such as Sydney Harbour, could be at risk

The bombing, for example, of the Sydney Opera House by a cruiser stacked with explosives would be "symbolic and shocking". While it would not necessarily kill many people, it would, he said, "strike a devastating psychological blow".

Many Australians are feeling increasingly uneasy.

Office worker Andrew Brown told the BBC that "because of our (Australia's) involvement in Iraq, it's made us a target and it's only a matter of time before something happens."

Others, however, don't share his fears.

"I feel safe, completely safe," said Laura, a receptionist in Sydney.

Her friend Rosena told News Online that "people are paranoid because of the media.

"You've got to be logical and think 'no, it's not going to happen and if it does what can I do about it?' I'm not going to hide away and live in a bubble," she said defiantly.

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