I’m still catching up on this one.
Australian terrorist trials face lengthy delays
By Mike Head
12 January 2006
It is now more than two months since the largest joint federal-state police raids in Australian history resulted in the arrest of 20 Islamic men in Sydney and Melbourne. The heavily-publicised arrests were followed by lurid claims by government leaders, police chiefs and the media that the raids had prevented an imminent and “catastrophic” terrorist attack.
The November 8 operation bore all the hallmarks of a politically-motivated campaign to whip up new fears of terrorism and justify the introduction of police-state measures. These were contained in anti-terrorism bills that were being pushed through federal and state parliaments on a bipartisan basis by Prime Minister John Howard’s Liberal-National Coalition government and the state and territory Labor governments.
The raids were launched less than a week after Howard had declared a terrorist “alert” and convened an emergency session of the Senate to pass the first instalment of the new legislation, which allowed the police to arrest anyone on terrorist charges without having to prove that any specific terrorist act was being prepared.
Hunger strikers ‘have right to pray’
By Jamie Duncan and Shelley Markham
11 January 2006
TEN terrorist suspects on a hunger strike in a high security jail should have the right to pray together, a prominent Muslim leader said today.
The men, devout Muslims who are being held in the maximum security Acacia unit at Barwon Prison near Geelong, began the hunger strike on Monday.
The 10, arrested in pre-dawn raids in Melbourne and Sydney in November, are facing charges including being members of a terrorist organisation.
Islamic Council of Victoria President Malcolm Thomas said he was concerned the men had not been found guilty of any crime yet had been barred from following their beliefs.
Prison authorities denied the men permission to hold a short Friday afternoon group prayer session.
The men also complained about prison conditions and the amount of food they receive.
It is understood six of the men are allowed out of their cells in pairs from 9am to 2pm each day.
But four others, believed to include alleged leader Abdul Nacer Benbrika, are locked down 23 hours a day.
Mr Thomas said group prayer was a key part of the Muslim faith.
“We can’t forget that these guys are on remand and while solitary confinement is a decision that is made by the powers that be, they should be able to practise their religion,” he said.
“Our religion is not a religion of terror, it is a religion of submission to God and communal prayer brings people together to get the maximum benefit from prayer.”
Their lawyer Rob Stary said it was unlikely any harm would come from group prayers.
“It seems to me that in the Acacia Unit, which is the maximum security unit, every one of your communications are monitored, you’re videotaped or audiotaped,” he said.
“And if they did anything untoward or said anything in an untoward way, one would assume the authorities would segregate them again.”
Mr Stary said the men were regarded as exemplary prisoners, they respected prison staff and had not been charged with crimes of violence.
But Corrections Victoria Commissioner Kelvin Anderson today said he would not bend, despite the hunger strike.
“Prison authorities have worked closely with Muslim leaders so alleged terrorism suspects have special food, prayer times and places to pray,” he said in a statement today.
“Individuals charged with terrorism offences have been separated from each other for security reasons.
“No religious festival could ever have priority over our risk assessment arrangements.
“Our hand will not be forced by a hunger strike. We will not compromise public safety.”
The men were receiving medical supervision, he said.
Nine of the men were arrested in Melbourne during coordinated ASIO, NSW Police and Victoria Police raids in Sydney and Melbourne on November 8 last year.
The 10th man was arrested in Sydney and later extradited to Melbourne.
All were charged with being members of a terrorist organisation.
The group’s alleged leader, Muslim preacher Benbrika, 46, was also charged with directing a terrorist organisation.
The others nine are Ezzit Raad, 23, of Preston; Aimen Joud, 21, of Hoppers Crossing; Fadal Sayadi, 25, of Coburg; Amer Haddara, 26, of Yarraville; Ahmed Raad, 22, of Fawkner; Shane Kent, 28, of Meadow Heights; Abdulla Merhi, 20, of Fawkner; Hany Taha, 21, of Hadfield and Izzydeen Atik, 25, from Williamstown.
Eight of the men, excluding Kent and Haddara, have been charged with financing a terrorist organisation. All are due to reappear in the Melbourne Magistrates Court for committal mention on April 11.
No Xmas joy for Vic terror suspects
December 27 2005
Melbourne’s 10 terror suspects are spending Christmas in solitary confinement, dressed in “Guantanamo Bay orange” and banned from touching their loved ones.
Rob Stary, a lawyer for the Victorians arrested in a series of anti-terrorism raids last month, said the men’s spirits were breaking in Barwon Prison’s maximum security Acacia unit.
“It’s very soul-destroying for them,” Mr Stary told AAP.
Although the men are Muslim, spending this time of year in jail was nonetheless difficult as they see Christmas as a traditional time for celebration with family, he said.
“They have got a great reverence for the Christian religion,” Mr Stary said.
“They’re quite reverential … and respectful of that, which is not what I sort of expected.
“They do see it (Christmas) as a season of celebration.”
The men are accused of being members of a terrorist organisation.
Eight are also charged with financing a terrorist organisation, and Muslim preacher Abdul Nacer Benbrika, 46, of suburban Dallas, is accused as well of directing a terrorist organisation.
Four men have applied for bail and all have been refused by Melbourne Magistrates’ Court.
Mr Stary said it was “inconceivable” they were being held in Acacia without conviction.
“I don’t mean to sensationalise it, but it has to be marginally better than Guantanamo Bay,” he said.
The United States’ Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba holds suspected combatants captured in Iraq and Afghanistan, including South Australian man David Hicks and, until his release, Sydney man Mamdouh Habib.
Mr Stary said his 10 clients had no complaints about their treatment by staff in Acacia but the conditions were hard.
“They’re in solitary confinement… they’re wearing Guantanamo Bay orange, they’re shackled in the same way Guantanamo Bay people were,” he said.
Mr Stary said the men were allowed no physical contact with family and could only speak to loved ones through glass.
He said the men were political prisoners and Australia was breaching its obligations to treat them fairly.
Two of the men, Shane Kent, 28, of Meadow Heights, and Amer Haddara, 26, of Yarraville, are charged solely with being members of a terrorist organisation.
The pair failed to win bail this month but appeared relaxed and chatty together in court.
“I think they were just enjoying the fact that they could be in each other’s company… and they could see people in court,” Mr Stary said.
“That was a novel experience.”
Ezzit Raad, 23, of Preston, Aimen Joud, 21, of Hoppers Crossing, Fadal Sayadi, 25, of Coburg, Ahmed Raad, 22, of Fawkner, Abdulla Merhi, 20, of Fawkner, Hany Taha, 31, of Hadfield, and Izzydeen Atik, 25, of Williamstown, all face a second charge of financing a terrorist organisation.
Merhi and Taha have also launched failed bail bids. Taha is appealing in the Supreme Court, and Kent and Haddara are also expected to appeal.
Mr Stary expects trials to take several years to begin and said there was no chance the men would be moved from Acacia to less imposing cells.
“When I saw them in jail they were dispirited. In two years’ time they’ll be broken,” he said.
“The Muslim community in Australia would have a legitimate sense of grievance to see the way they’re treated.”
From a little over three weeks ago:
No bail for accused terror pair
By Jamie Berry
December 23 2005
A MAN who allegedly investigated the promotion of a violent jihad against the West, and the execution of prisoners of war, was yesterday refused bail.
The Melbourne Magistrates Court also heard that Shane Kent, who allegedly trained with al-Qaeda and pledged allegiance to its leader, Osama bin Laden, trawled the internet for firearms and assault vests.
Police claim Kent used his training at a camp in Afghanistan in 2001 to teach members of a Melbourne terror group, of which he is alleged to be a member.
The court heard yesterday that Kent visited websites that promoted violent jihad, discussed the “true meaning of jihad” and contained information on when it was permitted to execute prisoners of war.
Kent’s co-accused, Amer Haddara — who was allegedly found with a book discussing the legitimate killing of innocent people — was also refused bail by magistrate Reg Marron.
While Mr Marron said it was not an offence for Kent to download, access and view the material, he agreed with the prosecution that Kent, 29, of Meadow Heights, and Haddara, 26, of Yarraville, should not be granted bail. Both are charged with being members of a terrorist organisation.
The court heard that the charges related to behaviour between July last year and last month when the pair, with eight others, including the group’s alleged head, Abdul Nacer Benbrika, were arrested in Melbourne.
Police say the 10 men are part of a terror group operating in Melbourne. All except Kent and Haddara are charged with making funds available to a terrorist group.
When Haddara was arrested, he was found with two letters, police allege. One was a letter of introduction, in Arabic, that was similarly worded to letters from terrorist training camps. The other was from his sister, who urged him not to do “anything stupid”.
Kent and Haddara will remain in Barwon Prison’s maximum security Acacia Unit, where they have spent the past 46 days.
Mr Marron said he was not satisfied there were exceptional circumstances for their release on bail.
But he was concerned about the amount of time spent in Acacia, which he said amounted to “solitary confinement”, and said their condition should be carefully monitored.
“They are incredibly oppressive circumstances in which they find themselves,” Mr Marron said.
“It is a concern for me that a refusal of bail would mean they would continue in those particular circumstances.”
Mr Marron said the Crown case was a “work-in-progress” and only a handful of transcripts of recorded conversations had so far been tendered.
Kent’s lawyer, Rob Stary, told the court on Wednesday there were “gaping holes” and a “paucity of evidence” in the prosecution’s case against Kent.
Two other Melbourne terror suspects, Abdullah Merhi, 20, and Hany Taha, 31, also lost their bids for bail last week.
For a review of Australia’s “anti-terrorist” (sick) legislation, see:
‘Balancing National Security and Human Rights: Lessons from Australia’
volume four number one 2005
(University of New South Wales)