- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 8, 2005

SYDNEY, Australia — Authorities arrested 16 terror suspects today, including a prominent radical Muslim cleric sympathetic to Osama bin Laden, and said they had foiled a major terror 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.

“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 resulted from a 16-month investigation.

An Associated Press photographer saw a bomb-squad robot examining a backpack the man was wearing when he was shot. Commissioner Morgan said it contained a handgun.

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

Among the men arrested was the outspoken radical Muslim cleric Abdul Nacker Ben Brika, also known as Abu Bakr. The Algerian-Australian has said he would be violating his faith if he warned his students not to join the jihad, or holy war, in Iraq.

Abu Bakr was among nine men who appeared this morning in Melbourne Magistrates Court charged with being members of a terror group.

Prosecutor Richard Maidment told the court the nine formed a terrorist group to kill “innocent men and women in Australia.”

“The members of the Sydney group have been gathering chemicals of a kind that were used in the London Underground bombings,” Mr. Maidment said. He said Abu Bakr was the group’s ringleader.

“Each of the members of the group are committed to the cause of violent jihad,” he added.

Rob Stary, a Melbourne lawyer who said he represents eight of the nine men arrested there, including Abu Bakr, earlier had emphasized that the charges involved only membership in a terror group.

“They are not charged with being involved in the planning or preparation [of a terrorist act],” he said.

In an August interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corp., Abu Bakr said that although he was against the killing of innocents, he could not discourage his students from traveling to Afghanistan or Pakistan to train in terrorist camps. He said he supported al Qaeda’s aims and praised the group’s leader.

“Osama bin Laden, he is a great man,” Abu Bakr said.

Prime Minister John Howard’s opponents say his strong support for the U.S.-led war in Iraq and decision to send troops there and to Afghanistan have made an attack on Australia inevitable.

Just last week, Mr. Howard warned that Australian authorities had received specific intelligence about an attack on the country. Parliament then changed counterterrorism laws to allow police to arrest people involved in the early stages of planning an unspecified terror attack. Chief Nixon said the new legislation allowed some of today’s arrests to occur.

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