- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2006

SYDNEY, Australia — The conviction of a Pakistani-born architect for planning a jihad bombing campaign in Australia that was never carried out reawakened this week criticism of tough anti-terrorism laws passed after the September 11 attacks in the United States.

Prime Minister John Howard said the guilty verdict against Faheem Khalid Lodhi, who was accused of planning to target the national electricity grid and key defense sites, showed the anti-terrorism laws are robust and effective.

But legal analysts and human rights groups said the legislation eroded civil liberties, undermined the judicial process and risked alienating Australia’s Muslim community.

Keysar Trad, founder of the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia, said people could be convicted of “thought crimes, and not actual crimes,” under the laws. He said many Muslims think they are unfairly targeted by the laws and no longer feel welcome in Australia.

Lodhi, 36, was the first person convicted in Australia under a 2002 law against “preparing or planning a terrorist act.” He could be sentenced to life in prison, even though his actions would not have been criminal before 2002.

He was convicted of using a false name to buy a map of the electricity grid, inquiring about purchasing chemicals that could be used in homemade explosives, and possessing 15 pages of handwritten notes that contained recipes for explosives and poisons.

Prosecutors also charged that he planned to attack three military sites in Sydney — Her Majesty’s Australian Ship Penguin, Victoria Barracks and the Holsworthy army base.

“This is a demonstration that our new anti-terrorism laws are strong, they’re effective and they’re working,” Mr. Howard told commercial radio on Tuesday as he welcomed the guilty verdicts.

But John Williams, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Adelaide, questioned whether the balance between protecting the civil rights of individuals and safeguarding national security had been shifted too far.

“The specter is always raised of the one that gets through the net,” Mr. Williams said. But he cautioned that “fantasists” with no intention of carrying out an attack could be convicted under the new laws.

Mr. Howard has introduced a large amount of anti-terrorism legislation since the September 11 attacks. In 2002, the Terrorism Act created a new offense of “preparing an act of terrorism.”

Legislation in 2003 strengthened police powers to stop and search individuals and the ability of Australia’s spy agencies to monitor suspected terrorist groups.

The National Security Act 2004 blocked information that could prejudice national security from being revealed in open court.

The Anti-Terrorism Act, passed in 2005 after the London transit bombings in July, included jail terms for inciting violence, detention of suspects without charge for up to two weeks, and curtailing the movements of suspects and contacts for up to a year.

Katie Wood, campaign coordinator for Amnesty International Australia, said that the steady drip of legislation had eroded civil liberties and that such laws are too “broad brush.”

“Our concern is that terrorist offenses have been defined really, really broadly, and can catch a whole heap of people in the dragnet,” she said.

Lodhi will be sentenced Thursday.

Also Tuesday, the Howard government announced that hundreds of Australian troops in Iraq will be redeployed for more dangerous missions, provoking calls to bring them home.

Defense Minister Brendan Nelson said 460 soldiers guarding Japanese engineers in the southern city of Samawa soon would move to the nearby city of Tallil to train and provide backup for Iraqi forces who are to take control of Muthanna, a southern province, and help secure the dangerous border with Syria.

The move is politically sensitive for Mr. Howard’s government, which backed the U.S.-led offensive in Iraq despite widespread public opposition. Protests have faded in recent months, largely because Australia has suffered only a single fatality in Iraq.

But the new mission near the volatile city of Nasiriyah, where roadside bombings by insurgents are commonplace, is likely to be more dangerous. Thirty-one Italian soldiers stationed in Nasiriyah have been killed, and Rome plans to withdraw its contingent, once the fourth largest in Iraq, by the end of the year.

“This has the potential to be more dangerous for our soldiers,” Mr. Nelson said.

Mr. Howard said Monday that Australian troops would continue guarding the 600-member Japanese contingent until they leave Iraq and called the redeployment a “sensible next step.”

“The aim is to have the Iraqis look after themselves,” Mr. Howard said. “If we pull out too quickly … the whole thing will fall to the ground.”

But political opponents seized on the news to demand the withdrawal of the 800 Australian troops.

“They should be brought home right now,” said Australian Greens leader Bob Brown. “Moving them from one province to a less safe province is not a good thing to do.”

Wednesday’s edition of Japan’s mass-circulation Yomiuri Shimbun said Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi had announced that Japanese troops in Iraq soon will end their mission to help reconstruction efforts that began early in 2004.

The Ground Self-Defense Force unit at Samawa is to relocate to Kuwait, a process sources said would be completed by the end of July, the Yomiuri reported, and Japanese troops would return home in August or later.

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