x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Men on trial for planning Australian army base attack

Five men plotted to storm an army base with high-powered weapons and shoot as many people as possible to further the cause of Islam, an Australian court hears.

Five men plotted to storm an Australian army base with high-powered weapons and shoot as many people as possible to further the cause of Islam, a court heard today. Melbourne's Supreme Court heard the men, who have been linked with Islamic extremists in Somalia, planned to continue their rampage at Sydney's Holsworthy army barracks until they were killed or captured. Crown prosecutor Nick Robinson said the plot was hatched between February and August 4 last year, when the five were arrested in a swoop involving hundreds of police in Melbourne.

He said one of the accused visited Somalia to seek a fatwa, or religious decree, for the attack, adding they had condemned Australia's involvement in the war in Afghanistan and believed the country was oppressing Muslims. Mr Robinson said the men believed Islam was under attack from several countries, including Australia, and wanted to advance their religion as they perceived it. Saney Edow Aweys, 27, Yacqub Khayre, 23, Abdirahmin Mohamud Ahmed, 26, Wissam Mahmoud Fattal, 34, and Nayef El Sayed, 26, have all pleaded not guilty to conspiring to do acts in preparation for, or planning, a terrorist act.

Fattal had visited Holsworthy and described it as an easy target, according to Mr Robinson. Justice Betty King told the jury that the trial was not about the religion of Islam, but whether the accused had committed any offences. The arrests highlighted security standards at army bases, and police said the alleged attack would have been the worst in Australian history. It also prompted Canberra to list Somalia's al Qa'eda-inspired al Shabab group as a terrorist organisation, although the outfit has denied any link to the alleged plot.

Australia was a staunch supporter of ex-US leader George W. Bush's "war on terror" and sent troops to Iraq as well as Afghanistan, where about 1,550 personnel are still based in the country's south. Ninety-two Australians were killed in the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings, while three died in blasts at luxury hotels in July 2009 in Jakarta, where extremists also carried out a deadly car-bombing on Australia's embassy in 2004.

In February, five Muslims who plotted a guns-and-explosives attack on an unknown target to protest against Australia's part in the "war on terror" were jailed for up to 28 years, after the country's longest extremism trial. And in September last year, an Australian convert to Islam was jailed for five years after admitting being part of a terror cell that plotted to kill thousands of people by bombing sports events.

Former forklift truck-driver Shane Kent was part of a group that planned to attack events including the Australian Football League's 2005 Grand Final, which attracted 92,000 fans. Eight other men were earlier jailed for up to 15 years over the plot, including a radical Muslim cleric. Also last September, an ex-airline worker was jailed for nine years for producing a do-it-yourself jihad manual including how-to guides on bomb-making, assassinations and shooting down planes.