Page last updated at 11:37 GMT, Tuesday, 8 November 2005

Australia terror suspects charged

Police watch as a van carrying terror suspects arrives at Sydney's Central Court Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2005.
Suspects have been charged with belonging to a terrorist group

Police in Australia claim to have foiled a major terrorist attack after they arrested 16 people on Tuesday in raids across Sydney and Melbourne.

Nine people appeared in court in Melbourne, including Abu Bakr, an outspoken Algerian-Australian cleric who has praised Osama Bin Laden.

The nine were charged with belonging to a terrorist organisation.

The police operation came nearly a week after Australia's anti-terror laws were amended to widen police powers.

In addition to the 16 people arrested, one man was in critical condition in hospital in Sydney with a gunshot wound in the neck, after he allegedly opened fire on police.

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

Abu Bakr

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

Seven of the suspects, including Abu Bakr, were detained until another court appearance on 31 January, and two others were to hear on Wednesday whether their application to be released on bail would be granted.

A lawyer for some of the men, Rob Stary, said that none of his clients had been charged with planning any attack.

Another lawyer, Adam Houda, who was representing at least one of the suspects arrested in Sydney, told reporters that the charges were a "scandalous political prosecution".

"There is no evidence in this case that terrorism was contemplated or being planned by any particular person, at a particular time, or in a particular place," he said.

Those arrested in Sydney are due to appear in court on Friday, on charges of preparing a terrorist act.

Prosecutor Mr Maidment said that members of the Sydney group "have been gathering chemicals of a kind that were used in the London Underground bombings".

Mr Maidment said that Abu Bakr was the leader of both the Melbourne and Sydney groups.


Supporters of the arrested men clashed with news cameramen outside the courts in Melbourne and Sydney.

No target named

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. Chemicals, weapons, and computers were seized, police 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.

Police declined to give details of the likely target of the attack, but Victoria state police chief Christine Nixon specifically ruled out next year's Commonwealth Games, to be held in Melbourne.

But the authorities have said in recent months that suspects had carried out surveillance on the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge, railway stations and the Melbourne stock exchange.

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.

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