Page last updated at 08:39 GMT, Wednesday, 5 August 2009 09:39 UK

Court outburst over Sydney 'plot'

Australian police search car in Melbourne suburb
Police carried out raids on 19 locations across Melbourne

One of five men charged in Australia for allegedly planning a suicide attack on a Sydney army base has denied in court that he was a terrorist.

"Your army kills innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan," Wissam Mahmoud Fattal shouted to the magistrate as he was led from the court.

The five were detained on Tuesday in a series of raids in Melbourne.

They are Australian nationals of Somali and Lebanese descent, with suspected links to Somali militants.

Mr Fattal, 33, refused to stand before the magistrate in a Melbourne court, where he and the other four suspects were charged with conspiring to plan an attack on Sydney's Holsworthy military base.

He did not enter a plea.

"You call us terrorists - I've never killed anyone in my life," he shouted.

"Your army kills innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan and Israel takes Palestinian land by force."

'Seeking fatwa'

Australia contributed troops to the war in Iraq and has about 1,500 troops in Afghanistan.

Nick Bryant's Australia
Nick Bryant
BBC News, Sydney

Commonly, Bali is referred to as "Australia's September 11", but that may have more to do with the journalistic desire for a neat and simple headline rather than an accurate statement of fact.

John Howard used the domestic threat of terrorism to justify his government's support for the Bush administration, and the presence of Australian diggers in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Some will doubtless argue that his comments were borne out by the bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta in September 2004. Others would contend that his unrelenting support for the Bush administration made Australia more of a target.

Mr Fattal and the other suspects have been remanded in custody until their next hearing on 26 October.

Officials believe they are linked to the Somali-based al-Shabab group, and that one suspect had participated in fighting there and others had undergone military-style training there.

Al-Shabab is trying to overthrow the weak UN-backed Somali government and is believed to have links to al-Qaeda.

The group is banned in the US as a terrorist group, but not in Australia. Government officials said they would review its legal status.

"The men's intention was to actually go into the [Holsworthy] army barracks and to kill as many soldiers as they could before they themselves were killed," said Tony Negus, acting chief commissioner of the Australian Federal Police.

The attack would have been the most serious terrorist attack on Australian soil, Mr Negus added.

"Members of the group have been actively seeking a fatwa or religious ruling to justify a terror attack on Australia," he said.

Armed Al-Shabab fighters patrol Bakara Market in Mogadishu, Somalia, on 29 June 2009

Prosecutors told the court there were phone conversations, text messages and surveillance footage, including footage of one of the suspects outside the Holsworthy army base, linking the suspects to an alleged attack.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said: "The sobering element of today's development is the reminder to all Australians that the threat of terrorism is alive and well, and this requires continued vigilance on the part of our security authorities."

The country's security level is still at medium, where it has been since 2003.

The police said the raids followed a seven-month operation involving several state and federal agencies.

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