Hefty jail terms for terrorism plotters
By Shane McLeod for PM
Five Sydney men jailed over terrorism plot Australia’s longest-running criminal trial ended in a specially-built courthouse in Sydney’s West on Monday, with five men sentenced to jail terms of up to 28 years.
In a televised hearing, Supreme Court judge Antony Whealy said their fundamentalist Islamic beliefs drove them to plot a terrorist attack on a large scale.
The actual target of their planning was never revealed in court.
Legal experts say the case shows anti-terrorism laws can lead to successful prosecutions, but they worry the long-term consequences of the tough laws could harm counter-terrorism efforts.
It took Justice Anthony Whealy more than three hours to read out his judgement in the case of the five men, who were found guilty by a jury last year of plotting a large scale terrorist attack.
Four of their co-conspirators had already pleaded guilty to being part of a plot.
Justice Whealy described the motivation for what he called a criminal enterprise.
“Each was driven by the concept that the world was, in essence, divided between those who adhered strictly and fundamentally to a rigid concept of the Muslim faith – indeed a medieval view of it – and those who did not,” he said.
“Secondly, each was driven by the conviction that Islam throughout the world was under attack, particularly at the hands of the United States and its allies – in this context Australia was plainly included.
“Thirdly, each offender was convinced that his obligation as a devout Muslim was to come to the defence of Islam and other Muslims overseas.
“Fourthly, it was the duty of each individual offender, indeed a religious obligation, to respond to the worldwide situation by preparing for violent Jihad in this country, here in Australia.”
Justice Whealy detailed the preparations the men had made for the terrorist act, gathering chemicals that could be used for bomb making, firearms, and Jihadist propaganda.
He referred to one video in particular that was viewed during the the trial where a masked Mudjahedeen spoke in English “with a very obvious Australian accent”, proclaiming, “you kill us, so you will be killed; you bomb us, so you will be bombed.”
“This is an overly simplistic, but reasonably accurate summation of the mindset of each of the offenders in this trial,” Justice Whealy added.
“It is the mindset, in my view, that prompted the entry of each man into the conspiracy, and no doubt motivated his actions in relation to the furtherance of the enterprise.”
And while the intended target was never revealed and plotting had in fact been interrupted by the men’s arrests, Justice Whealy says it was clear.
“An intolerant and inflexible fundamentalist religious conviction was the principal motivation for the commission of the offence,” he said.
“This is the most startling and intransigent feature of the crime.
“It sets it apart from other criminal enterprises, motivated by financial gain, by passion, by anger or revenge.”
Justice Whealy sentenced the five men to terms in jail from 21 up to 28 years, with long non-parole terms.
Each of them will have their sentence reduced by the years they have already spent in jail.
Justice Whealy noted, in handing down his sentence, that the men seemed to view the prospect of prison as a “test of their faith”.
“These men, while they undoubtedly face the prospect of many years in prison with a degree of trepidation and concern, do appear to wear their imprisonment like some kind of badge of honour,” he said.
“This is because they see it as a test of their faith, and a burden willingly to be borne as a duty arising from their fundamentalist religious conviction.”
Family lashes out
Outside the Parramatta court, the sister of one of the men read a poem for her brother, who was sentenced to 23 years in jail.
“They handcuffed your spirit, they stole your freedom, they locked you up for a crime you didn’t commit. They locked you up because you fit the perp’s descript,” she said.
And she lashed out over the prosecution.
“Which family in this world wouldn’t be surprised? Which family? Twenty-three years, that’s half of his life,” she said.
“That is half of his life. This is not fair. This is not fair to our community nor to our religion.
“My brother is innocent. Yes I am saying that he is innocent.”
When asked if her brother was plotting mass murder, the woman accused ASIO officials of being “extremists”.
“No he was not planning no mass murder, he was not planning any terrorist attacks,” she said.
“No plots and he’s not an extremist. The only form of extremists are the people like ASIO. They go deep.
“They go way deep into this. The whole case was extreme.”
Federal Police commissioner Tony Negus was not commenting on the sentences, but paid tribute to the investigators who put the case together.
“Certainly the investigation by both the New South Wales police, ASIO and ourselves has prevented a significant act of terrorism occurring in this country,” he said.
“And look, the sentence is a matter for the courts and we really don’t want to pass judgement on that.
“Obviously they are significant sentences and I’d applaud that from the courts.”
‘Effective and counter-productive’
Terrorism law expert Nicola McGarrity, from the Gilbert and Tobin Centre for Public Law at the University of New South Wales, says the prosecution shows the anti-terror laws result in convictions.
“On the one hand, this terrorism trial indicates that the terrorism offences are effective in taking people off the streets who were going to engage in terrorist acts,” she said.
“But on the other hand, these terrorism offences have severe human rights implications and can actually be counter-productive in the sense that already alienated communities within Australia often regard these terrorism laws as targeting them rather than being applied neutrally across the community.”
Outside the court today the lawyer acting for one of the convicted men indicated he was considering an appeal.