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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 November 2005, 06:29 GMT
Australia foils 'terror attack'
Australia bomb disposal expert during Tuesday raid
About 500 police took part in the raids in Sydney and Melbourne
Australian police say they have foiled a terrorist attack in the final stages of its preparation, after 16 people were arrested in Sydney and Melbourne.

New South Wales police chief Ken Moroney said a "potentially catastrophic attack" had been averted.

One suspect was shot and wounded during a raid in Sydney. Chemicals, weapons, and computers were seized, police said.

The operation came nearly a week after Australia's anti-terror laws were changed to give police greater powers.

Police raided 23 houses in Sydney and Melbourne early on Tuesday, as part of the country's largest counter-terrorism operation.

The raids involved about 500 police officers and followed a 16-month investigation, officials said.

"I'm satisfied that we have disrupted what I would regard as the final stages of a large-scale terrorist attack, or the launch of a terrorist attack," Mr Moroney told Australia's ABC radio.

Court appearances

Those arrested in Melbourne include Abu Bakr, an outspoken Algerian-Australian cleric who has in the past praised Osama Bin Laden as "a great man".

He was among nine men who appeared in court in the city on Tuesday, and were charged with membership of a "terrorist organisation".

ABU BAKR

Prosecutor Richard Maidment told the court the men had formed a terrorist group to kill "innocent men and women in Australia".

He claims they received military-style training in rural Australia and had discussions about bomb-making.

Those arrested in Sydney are also due to appear in court.

"The members of the Sydney group have been gathering chemicals of a kind that were used in the London Underground bombings," Mr Maidment said, adding that Abu Bakr was the ringleader of both the Melbourne and Sydney groups.

Police said one of the suspects in Sydney was shot and seriously wounded after they came under fire. They said the suspect had refused orders to surrender.

There was no immediate comment from those arrested.

US ally

Police declined to give details of the likely target of the attack, but Victoria state police chief Christine Nixon said next year's Commonwealth Games, to be held in the city, were not a target.

TERROR RAIDS

Prime Minister John Howard said the arrests vindicated the government's decision to rush through amendments to the anti-terror laws.

"This country has never been immune from a possible terrorist attack," he said in a televised news conference.

"It's important that we continue to mobilise all of the resources of the commonwealth and the states to fight terrorism."

The changes were enacted on Thursday, to make it easier for police to prosecute suspects believed to be planning attacks.

Mr Howard at the time said he had received credible intelligence of a "terrorist threat".

Australia is a key ally of the US in its "war on terror", and has sent troops to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There has never been a major terrorist attack on Australian soil, although 88 Australians died in the 2002 Bali bombings, and Australia's embassy in Indonesia was bombed in 2004.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See police making the arrests




SEE ALSO:
In pictures: Australia raids
08 Nov 05 |  In Pictures
Profile: Abu Bakr
08 Nov 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Australia plans army terror role
07 Nov 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Australia terror bill introduced
03 Nov 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Australia warned of terror threat
02 Nov 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Bali marks 2002 bomb anniversary
12 Oct 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Australia relives Bali nightmare
06 Oct 05 |  Asia-Pacific


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