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Australia cleric convicted of terrorism charges

[JURIST] An Australian jury on Monday convicted radical cleric Abdul Nacer Benbrika [BBC profile] and five other Muslims in that country's highest-profile terrorism trial to date. Benbrika, also known as Abu Bakr, was found guilty [charge list] in the Supreme Court of Victoria [official website] on charges of directing the activities of a terrorist organization, belonging to a terrorist organization and possessing a thing connected with preparation for a terrorist act. Four other defendants were acquitted, while verdicts had not been delivered for two more. The group was accused of plotting in 2005 to assassinate then-Prime Minister John Howard [official profile; JURIST news archive] and to bomb major sporting events. Australian Attorney General Robert McClelland [official profile] said at a press conference [transcript]:

It is my view that the successful prosecution in the Pendennis trials is the most successful terrorist prosecution that this country has seen. It involved obviously a number of individuals but it also evidenced a degree of organisation that our law enforcement agencies have been able to - able to prevent developing. And, as I say, we must be alive to the fact that not only would a terrorist event cause injury and death and destruction, it would be enormously damaging to our social fabric.
A defense lawyer said Benbrika had not decided whether to appeal [Melbourne Herald Sun report]. AP has more. AFP has additional coverage. The Australian has local coverage.

Benbricka was among 13 men arrested [JURIST report] in November 2005 in what was then Australia's largest counter-terrorism raid. A government warning of an imminent terror attack that month prompted the Australian Parliament to pass an amendment [JURIST reports] to existing anti-terrorism laws expanding state power to allow authorities to prosecute suspects without associating them with a specific terrorist act. Police said the amendment was necessary to accomplish the arrests of several of the suspects. In another terrorism case, the Supreme Court of Victoria Court of Appeal this past June upheld a decision [JURIST report] ordering a retrial of suspected terrorist Joseph Thomas, nicknamed "Jihad Jack" by the popular media. Thomas had been found guilty of receiving $3,500 from a senior al Qaeda member and of carrying a fake passport.

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