The judge in a trial of five Muslim men accused of plotting a terrorist attack in Australia cautioned jurors yesterday that Islam was not on trial and urged them to put aside any bias.
Prosecutors have said the suspects were devotees of a radical cleric sympathetic to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and that they made a pact to launch a terrorist attack because they felt their religion was under threat. The men have pleaded not guilty.
New South Wales state Supreme Court judge Justice Anthony Whealy asked the 15 jurors to put aside any prejudice, noting that the public has been bombarded with media coverage of radical Islam and its links to terrorism in the last few years.
“You must be strict to bring to bear absolute impartiality,” Whealy told them as the trial opened today. “It would be wrong for you to assume ... the guilt or innocence of the accused simply because of your views on the way the Muslim lifestyle is dealt with in the media.”
“It’s an obvious truism for me to tell you that the Muslim religion is not on trial here,” he said.
The suspects, who were arrested in a series of raids in 2005, have pleaded not guilty to conspiring to commit acts in preparation for a terrorist attack. They each potentially face life in prison if convicted.
Prosecutors have alleged the men downloaded bomb-making instructions off the Internet and stockpiled chemicals to make lethal explosives.
Their trial is expected to last up to one year.
The five Muslim extremists planned terrorist acts in Australia in pursuit of “violent jihad,” the court heard as their trial began.
The Sydney men obtained or sought weapons and explosive materials and possessed extremist material venerating the work of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, prosecutor Richard Maidment told a Supreme Court jury.
He said the evidence would show the men were working together between July 2004 and their arrest in November 2005 “to prepare for the commission of one or more terrorist acts in Australia.”
The accused — Khaled Cheikho, Moustafa Cheikho, Mohamed Ali Elomar, Abdul Rakib Hasan and Mohammed Omar Jamal — have pleaded not guilty.
If convicted, the men — aged from 24 to 43 — face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Raids on their homes found “large quantities of literature which supported indiscriminate killing, mass murder and martyrdom in pursuit of violent jihad,” Maidment said.
They had pictures and videos showing the hijacked aircraft smashing into the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, as well as beheadings and death on the battlefield, he said.
Maidment described all five as devout Muslims who believed Islam was under attack throughout the world and that there was a religious obligation to come to its defense.