Wed, Nov 09, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Australia arrests 17 in terror raids

WIDE NET The suspects were rounded up in raids in two cities, with authorities saying they averted a `large-scale' terrorist attack planned by a radical Muslim cleric

AP , SYDNEY

A group of men believed to be friends or relatives of men arrested on suspicion of terrorist activities attack a TV cameraman, bottom, outside a Melbourne court after they were ejected from the court yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

Police arrested 17 terror suspects in Australia's two biggest cities yesterday in pre-dawn raids they said foiled a plot to carry out a catastrophic terror attack.

A radical Muslim cleric known for praising Osama bin Laden was charged with masterminding the plot. Another suspect was in critical condition after being shot in the neck during a gunfight with police, police Commissioner Graeme Morgan said. An officer was hit, receiving a minor graze to the hand.

"I'm satisfied that we have disrupted what I would regard as the final stages of a large-scale terrorist attack ... here in Australia," New South Wales Police Commissioner Ken Moroney told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.

He said that he expected more arrests.

Prime Minister John Howard, who last week warned of a possible imminent terror attack in Australia, thanked security forces in a nationally televised news conference.

"This country has never been immune from a possible terrorist attack," he said. "That remains the situation today and it will be the situation tomorrow."

Late last night, federal police raided another Sydney home as part of the terror probe, an Australian Federal Police spokesman said on condition of anonymity. There were no immediate arrests.

The spokesman, who said it was federal police policy not to give his name, said he could not comment further because the raid was part of an ongoing investigation.

Abu Bakr, a leading Algerian-Australian cleric, was among nine men who appeared yesterday morning in Melbourne Magistrates Court charged with being members of a terror group.

Prosecutor Richard Maidment told the court the nine planned to kill "innocent men and women in Australia" and that they had been stockpiling chemicals like those used in the London subway bombings in July.

He identified Abu Bakr as the group's leader and said each group member had undergone military-style training at a rural camp northeast of Melbourne.

Seven of the suspects, including Abu Bakr, were ordered detained until a court appearance on Jan. 31. Two others were to hear today whether their application to be released on bail will be granted.

One suspect allegedly was overheard pleading with the others for permission to become a martyr -- a sign that he wanted to die in a way "similar to the nature of a suicide bomber," Detective Sergeant Chris Murray told the court

In Sydney, seven men arrested there were held in cells at a tightly guarded downtown court. They were ordered held until another hearing on Friday on charges of preparing a terror act by manufacturing explosives.

The man shot by police was under guard in hospital and was not immediately charged.

Defense lawyer Adam Houda told reporters the charges were a "scandalous political prosecution."

"There's no evidence that terrorism was contemplated or being planned by any particular person at any particular time or at any particular place," he said.

Angry supporters of the suspects clashed violently with news cameramen in Melbourne and Sydney.

More than 500 police backed up by helicopters hovering overhead were involved in raids across Sydney and Melbourne. As well as arresting the suspects, they seized chemicals, weapons, computers and backpacks.

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