An Australian convert to Islam yesterday admitted being part of a terror cell that plotted to kill thousands of people by bombing major sports events, just moments before his retrial.
Shane Kent, 33, pleaded guilty to being a member of a group led by radical Islamic cleric Abdul Nacer Benbrika, who told his followers they could kill women and children in the pursuit of holy war.
Kent also admitted involvement in the cell’s plans for a bomb attack on sports events including the Australian Football League’s (AFL) 2005 Grand Final, which attracted some 92,000 fans and a TV audience of millions.
The former forklift truck driver was about to face a retrial on the charges, which he previously denied, after a Supreme Court jury last September failed to reach a verdict.
Kent, wearing a gray shirt and black jacket, looked down as the charges were read and replied “guilty” to each.
Six members of the cell, as well as Benbrika, were last year found guilty on related charges in Australia’s largest ever terrorism trial.
Benbrika was jailed for 15 years and the six followers received at least seven-and-a-half years each. Another man, Izzydeen Atik, pleaded guilty in August 2007 and was jailed for five-and-a-half years.
The men referred to themselves as mujahidin, or holy warriors, and considered violent jihad an integral part of their religious obligations, judge Bernard Bongiorno said when sentencing Benbrika and the other men in February.
Benbrika was so committed to violent jihad, Bongiorno said, that he had talked about continuing the group’s activities behind bars if its members were jailed.
They were arrested in November 2005 after Australia strengthened laws to detain those in the early stages of planning terror acts, following the London transport bombings in July that year.
Jurors were told the group originally planned to attack the 2005 AFL Grand Final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, but were foiled by a series of police and secret service raids. They then decided to hit either the Melbourne stadium during AFL pre-season, or the Crown casino during 2006 Grand Prix week, the jury was told.
Material seized from the group included bomb-making instructions and video tapes with messages from al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
While the cell had not made advanced plans for a specific target or carried out an attack, Bongiorno said they had shown no remorse, and did not appear to have renounced their beliefs.
Kent was charged with intentionally being a member of a terrorist organization and to making a document connected with the preparation of a terrorist act.
Evidence at his first trial showed Kent, who converted to Islam at 19, undertook two months of paramilitary training in the use of firearms and explosives in an unnamed country.
His lawyers said yesterday he was receiving psychiatric treatment for acute depression and anxiety. He will be sentenced on Aug. 17.
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