Tuesday, November 8, 2005
Seventeen people have been arrested overnight in Sydney and Melbourne, in what Police have described as ‘anti-terror’ raids. New South Wales (NSW) and Victorian police conducted the raids, and both police chiefs have said that the action foiled a terrorist plot. New South Wales Police Commissioner Ken Moroney said that, “we have disrupted what I would regard as the final stages of a terrorist attack or the launch of a terrorist attack in Australia.” The Guardian is reporting that some of those arrested in Sydney are alleged to have been stockpiling chemicals.
Some of those arrested in Melbourne have appeared in court, including Abu Bakr, also known as Abdul Nacer Benbrika. Benbrika was criticised last year for comments he made in support of al-Qaeda.
In NSW, warrants were executed in Lakemba, Belmore, Wiley Park, Greenacre, Illawong, Punchbowl, Hoxton Park, Condell Park, Ingleburn, Belfield, Bankstown and Kemps Creek, resulting in 8 arrests.
A NSW Police spokesman has said that one of the men arrested was shot in the chest by police in Green Valley at about 9am, after firing at police. “One officer was struck, we believe in the hand, and suffered a minor wound,” the spokesman said. “One of the police officers returned fire and the person of interest to police was wounded in the neck.”
It has been reported that the arrests in Sydney, unlike those in Melbourne, do include charges relating to planning and preparation of violent acts. The suspects have not yet appeared in court and the case has been adjourned to Friday.
Mick Keelty, Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police (AFP), has said that the seven people arrested in New South Wales will be charged under the anti-terrorism legislation that was rushed through parliament last week. Mr Keelty has said that the details of the allegations against the men should be kept secret.
“An application will be made by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecution this afternoon to suppress the details of the allegations,” he said.
Keelty justified the action by arguing that “we give these people a fair opportunity to prepare their defence before the court rather than run the trial in the media.”
In Victoria, warrants were executed in Dallas, Hoppers Crossing, Fawkner, Preston, Haberfield, Coburg, Yarraville, Meadow Heights, Hadfield and Mount Druit, resulting in 9 arrests.
Victorian Police Commissioner Christine Nixon also believes that the raids prevented a terrorist attack, however she stated that the police did not know what form the attack would take, saying “we weren’t exactly sure when nor, more importantly, what they planned to damage or do harm to.” Commissioner Nixon said that they had sufficient evidence to proceed.
Nixon said that the raids were the result of a long-term operation. When queried, she confirmed that the anti-terror legislation rushed through Parliament last week was related to today’s raids. “Some of that is related to that amendment that occurred,” she said. The changes became law just two days ago.
Those arrested will be charged with “a range of offences”, however the exact nature of the charges is yet to be announced. It is not yet clear to what extent the emergency legislative changes rushed through parliament last week are a legal basis for the arrests.
One of those arrested in Melbourne was Abu Bakr, also known as Abdul Nacer Benbrika. He is a dual Algerian and Australian citizen, and was criticised last August when he told ABC Radio that he supported al-Quaeda. At the time he denied being involved in any terrorist activity.
In an interview on the ABC Radio “National Breakfast” program, Rob Stary, a criminal defence lawyer who will be representing those arrested in the Melbourne raids said that, as far as he is aware, the charges all relate to being a member of a proscribed organisation, and none of the Melbourne suspsects had been charged in relation to any planning or preparation offences. At the time of the interview he was not aware which proscribed organisation the charges relate to.
Seven men have appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates Court, on charges of intentionally being a member of a terrorist organisation and knowing the organisation was a terrorist organisation. The court has heard that Abu Bakr is the “spiritual leader” of the group and the prosecutor alleged that the organisation is directed by Abu Bakr. Speaking of the Melbourne arrests, Prosecutor Richard Maidment QC alleged that the group constituted a “terrorist organisation”. Making reference to the Sydney arrests he said that the Sydney suspects had “gathering chemicals of a kind that were used in the London Underground bombings,” and planned to kill “innocent men and women in Australia.”