Suburban Islamic cleric Abdul Nacer Benbrika wanted to kill 1000 Australians to “please Allah” and had the support of a blond-haired recruit who had pledged violent jihad during a meeting with Osama bin Laden.
A Melbourne court heard yesterday that a witness would reveal that Shane Kent, 29, received weapons and explosives training at the Taliban-run al-Faruq training camp for foreign jihadis in Afghanistan.
And at a meeting with bin Laden in the country, Mr Kent, from Meadow Heights in Melbourne’s north, allegedly committed to violent jihad. The alleged Melbourne terror cell’s spiritual leader, Mr Benbrika embraced Mr Kent as part of his clique, the court heard, saying: “He’s good, and he doesn’t talk too much.”
Mr Benbrika encouraged his devotees to plan a large-scale terrorist attack, which police foiled during its “developmental stages”, the court heard during the opening day of the committal hearing of 13 suspects yesterday.
“If you kill, we kill here 1000,” Mr Benbrika allegedly said in a conversation covertly taped by police. “Because if you get large numbers here, the government will listen.”
The court heard yesterday that the group was making plans for a backyard explosives laboratory, had held secret training camps and was found with an armoury of weapons and bomb-making manuals.
And some members of the alleged terror cell were anxious to carry out an attack.
According to the police surveillance, Abdulla Merhi, 21, said he “could wait months but not years” to carry out violent jihad.
“You shouldn’t kill just one, two or three,” Mr Benbrika allegedly responded. “Do a big thing.”
“Like Madrid?” Mr Merhi asked, to which Mr Benbrika allegedly replied: “That’s it.”
Twelve of the accused—Mr Kent, Mr Merhi, Izzydeen Atik, Ahmed Raad, Bassam Raad, Ezzit Raad, Majed Raad, Amer Haddara, Aimen Joud, Fadal Sayadi, Hany Taha and Shoue Hammoud—are charged with being members of a terrorist organisation which Mr Benbrika is alleged to have directed.
They face a range of other charges including making funds available to a terrorist organisation, providing support to a terrorist organisation, and possessing a thing connected with a terrorist act.
Some of the charges carry a maximum prison term of 25 years.
Mr Benbrika is also charged with directing the activities of a terrorist organisation and recruiting a person to join a terrorist organisation.
Ezzit Raad discussed the London train bombings of last year with spiritual leader Mr Benbrika, the court heard, complaining that the death toll was not large enough and that “it should have been more”.
Sitting in the high-security Victorian County Court building yesterday, the Magistrates Court heard that one member of the group had placed a large order for laboratory equipment.
The equipment was allegedly intended for use in the manufacture of explosives using chemicals bought by Sydney terror suspects, who were arrested simultaneously in joint counter-terrorism raids last year.
A bomb-making manual called The Vortex Cookbook, and decrees setting out the rules of violent jihad, were allegedly uncovered at suspects’ homes during police raids before the arrest of the 13 men in November in the combined-agency counter-terrorism Operation Pendennis.
Religious handbooks found allegedly included one entitled The Islamic Ruling with Regard to the Killing of Women, Children and the Elderly in a Situation of War, and another called The Virtues of Martyrdom in the Path of Allah.
The organisation was “inspired and influenced by al-Qaeda and the teachings of Osama bin Laden”, said prosecutor Mark Dean, opening the case yesterday.
“The organisation was motivated by a belief that the world Islamic community is under attack from non-Islamic forces.
“The interpretation of Islam followed by the defendants was a militant and extreme version, and in part characterised by the use of intended violence against those who did not share their views.”
Firearms including rifles and pistols were found at the homes of some of the accused during police raids, the court heard.
Members of the cell attended a training camp with the Sydney accused at a remote location near Louth in far northwestern NSW in March last year, the court was told yesterday.
A team-building operation allegedly took place at a camp near Eden, on the NSW south coast, in October 2004, and other training camps were allegedly held at Kinglake and Ocean Grove, on Melbourne’s northeast and southwest outskirts.
Members of the Melbourne group allegedly contributed $100 a month each to a fund used to finance their terrorism plans.
Group members were involved in car rebirthing, credit-card fraud and selling stolen mobile phones to finance their terror plans, Mr Dean said.
During a police raid in June last year, $18,355 in cash was found at the home of Ahmed Raad, the court heard.
Only seven of the accused were present yesterday morning, with Mr Kent arriving in the afternoon after a “misunderstanding” with guards resulted in him being left behind at the maximum-security Barwon prison, near Geelong, a three-hour drive from Melbourne.
While about 25 civil libertarian protesters held placards outside the court demanding that the men be released, Mr Benbrika refused to attend yesterday.
His barrister, Ashley Halphin, told the court his client had been assaulted during transport to or from a previous court hearing.
The hearing before Chief Magistrate Paul Smith was adjourned and will resume on Friday.