Accused 'wanted to suicide bomber'


Active member

Accused 'wanted to suicide bomber'

ONE of nine Melbourne men accused of planning to unleash jihad attacks on the city had allegedly asked his spiritual leader for permission to be a suicide bomber in Australia.

Abdullah Merhi, 20, of Fawkner, asked radical Muslim cleric Abdul Nacer Benbrika if he could become a martyr, a member of the joint counter-terrorism team told the Melbourne Magistrates Court yesterday.

"It was quite clear that he wanted to go the way of a similar suicide bomber," Detective Sergeant Chris Murray said.

"He wanted to be a martyr for Islam?" asked Merhi's solicitor, Rob Stary.

"Yes," the officer replied.

Quizzed further, Sergeant Murray replied: "I'll put it in my terms — he wanted to kill himself."

The nine men were arrested and charged yesterday with one count of intentionally being a member of a terrorist organisation, knowing the organisation was a terrorist organisation.

Benbrika, 45, of Dallas, the alleged leader of the Melbourne and Sydney terrorist cells, is charged with a second count of intentionally directing activities of a terrorist organisation, knowing it was a terrorist organisation.

Merhi and another man, Hany Taha, 31, of Hadfield, applied for bail and magistrate Reg Marron will deliver his decision on those applications today. The remaining seven were remanded to reappear in January.

Prosecutor Richard Maidment, SC, said the unnamed organisation led by Benbrika had been under surveillance by Australian Federal Police and other agencies for at least 12 months, and had discussed a "violent jihad of a kind that has no respect for human life or safety, embracing the notion it is permissible in certain circumstances in the pursuit of violent jihad to kill innocent women and children".

Police using telephone intercepts and listening devices had gathered 240 hours of material which was recorded in a mixture of Arabic and English, Mr Maidment said.

It was alleged that all nine defendants were involved in "military type" training at Kinglake, a claim disputed by one of the defence lawyers as a "paintballing" excursion.

The group had also allegedly organised a trip to Ocean Grove, which did not go ahead.

Mr Maidment said there was evidence that members had discussed bomb-making techniques and in June had ordered a large amount of chemical apparatus, including glassware, thermometers and burners.

He said there was further evidence that the group had tried to obtain chemicals that had not been easy to locate and buy since the terrorist attacks in New York on September 11, 2001

The members of the Melbourne and Sydney cells knew they were under the surveillance of state and federal authorities, Mr Maidment said.

"Each member of the group is committed and remains committed to the essential objective of the group which is the pursuit of a jihad in Australia," Mr Maidment told the court.

Although the leader of both cells, Benbrika had deliberately kept information from some members with the Melbourne cell fearing they were falling behind their Sydney counterparts, he said.

It was alleged the Sydney group had sourced chemicals used in the London Underground bombings earlier this year.

Mr Maidment labelled the alleged activities "terrorist offences", — a claim supported by Sergeant Murray in evidence of taped recordings.

"The conversations … relates to Islam, relates to concepts of jihad and that is military jihad and extremist talks of martyrdom," the officer said.

The court was told Taha supplied money to the group's fund which was overseen by another accused, Ahmed Raad, 22, of Fawkner.

In June, ASIO confiscated $19,000 from the group. The money was allegedly being used to finance operations and pay the legal bills of other members.

The court was told police were alerted to the Kinglake exercise after a resident saw 10 men wearing army fatigues in the area. Brian Walters, SC, for Taha, dismissed this claim, saying it was "scuttlebutt".

Detective Leading Senior Constable Jennifer Bannan-Moss told the court there was evidence the group had accessed Vortex Cookbook — a guide to bomb-making via the internet.

She said group members were heard asking Benbrika to "temper" Merhi's enthusiasm for martyrdom because it would draw attention to the group.

She said the group allegedly tried to raise money through a stolen car racket and Taha had acted as a middle man and offered advice on how to dispose of vehicles.

Senior Constable Bannan-Moss said she could not confirm or deny whether a covert operative had infiltrated the cells but said a 10th man under investigation had yet to be charged. More were to be arrested.

She also said officers found a map of the Department of Foreign Affairs' Melbourne headquarters during a raid at Merhi's home, but the officer did not elaborate on its significance.

Mr Walters said comments made by the Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon that an imminent terror threat had been averted were not supported by the "vague" evidence given in court. Mr Walters said Taha was not charged with conspiracy or planning terrorist attacks and was a peripheral player, with three children under six.

Mr Stary said Merhi had instructed him that his jihad was not a violent cause but rather a "struggle for Islamic purity" and that the charges would be vigorously defended.

Mr Stary said if the men were refused bail they would be placed in maximum security with no physical contact from their wives and children.

Magistrate Reg Marron will deliver his decision on the bail applications today.