MELBOURNE (Reuters) – An Australian court sentenced a Muslim cleric to 15 years jail Tuesday for leading a terrorist cell that planned to bomb a football match in Melbourne in 2005, ending Australia’s biggest terrorism trial, local media reported.
The attack, aimed at forcing Australia to withdraw troops from Iraq, did not take place.
Abdul Nacer Benbrika, 48, was sentenced on three charges, receiving 15 years for directing a terrorist group, seven years for being a member of a terrorist group and five years for possessing a CD connected with the planning of a terrorist act.
Benbrika will serve the terms concurrently.
The Victoria state Supreme Court sentenced six other Muslims to jail terms ranging from four to seven-and-a-half years, said local media at the court.
Court officials confirmed the seven men were sentenced, but could not immediately release the details.
Australia’s largest terrorism trial saw 12 men initially charged with planning to attack a grand final football match in Australia’s second-largest city, Melbourne , attended by 97,000 fans. Seven were convicted in late 2008.
“The group may have indeed only have been an embryonic terrorist organization … but the organization fostered and encouraged its members to engage in violent jihad and to perform a terrorist act,” said Judge Bernard Bongiorno in handing down the sentences.
He said Benbrika still supported violent http://www.apologeticsindex.org/j16.html as an integral part of religious obligations, reported local radio.
“All the evidence points to the conclusion that he maintains his position with respect to violent jihad,” the judge said.
Justice Bongiorno said Benbrika taught his young followers that “the destruction of the ‘kuffar’ – Arabic for unbelievers – was an essential aspect of the Islamic religion”.
The prosecution had alleged the men, Muslims from Melbourne’s northern and western suburbs, planned jihad and that Benbrika was their leader.
Several of the men were involved in stripping stolen cars and selling the parts to raise money for the group. The men’s activities, which included religious classes in which terrorists were lionised as martyrs, were monitored in a police operation between July 2004 and November 2005, when most of them were arrested.
The seven men were convicted last September after a seven-month trial involving more than 482 conversations secretly taped by police. Another four men were acquitted and the jury could not reach a verdict about a 12th man, Shane Kent, 33, of Meadow Heights. A 13th man, Izzydeen Atik, pleaded guilty before the trial began and gave evidence against the others. He alleged Benbrika had told him of possible terrorist targets including Crown Casino in Melbourne on the weekend of the Australian formula one grand prix and the MCG during the AFL grand final in 2005.
Justice Bongiorno said Benbrika believed Australia was “a land of war” because of its involvement in Iraq, which justified the promotion of a violent Islamic response as self-defence. “He justified fraud and violence against the kuffar because, according to him, both ‘the blood and money of the kuffar are lawful’.”
Justice Bongiorno said he placed no weight on Atik’s evidence when he decided sentences. Much of Atik’s evidence was “untrue and designed purely to serve his own ends”. He said he sentenced the convicted men on the basis that they had not selected targets or obtained explosives.