Archive for Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Police arrest 17 terrorist suspects

November 8, 2005

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— Australian authorities arrested 17 terrorist suspects today - including a prominent radical Muslim cleric sympathetic to Osama bin Laden - and said they had foiled a major terrorist attack on the country by men committed to "violent jihad."

The Australian Federal Police said seven men were arrested in Sydney and nine in Melbourne in coordinated raids that also netted evidence including weapons and apparent bomb-making materials. A prosecutor said the cleric, Abdul Nacer Benbrika - also known as Abu Bakr - was the ringleader.

"I was satisfied that this state was under an imminent threat of potentially a catastrophic terrorist act," said New South Wales Police Minister Carl Scully.

Police commissioner Graeme Morgan said one of the men arrested was shot and wounded by police in the raids, which followed a 16-month investigation.

An Associated Press photographer saw a bomb squad robot examining a backpack the man was wearing when he was shot.

Police declined to give details of the likely target of the attack, but Victoria state police chief Christine Nixon said that next year's Commonwealth Games, to be staged in Melbourne, were not a target.

Prime Minister John Howard thanked security forces in a 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. It's important that we continue to mobilize all of the resources of the commonwealth and the states to fight terrorism."

Abu Bakr - an Algerian-Australian who has said he would be violating his faith if he warned his students not to join the jihad, or holy war, in Iraq - was among nine men who appeared this morning in Melbourne Magistrates Court charged with being members of a terrorist group.

Seven of the suspects, including Abu Bakr, were ordered detained until a court appearance Jan. 31. Two others were applying to be released on bail.

Australia has never been hit by a major terrorist attack, but its citizens have repeatedly been targeted overseas.

Last year, the country's embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, was badly damaged by a suicide bomber, and dozens of Australians were killed in bombings in 2002 and last month on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.

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