15 Sep 2008

Cleric Australia's first convicted terrorist

9:49 pm on 15 September 2008

Radical Muslim cleric Abdul Nacer Benbrika has become Australia's first convicted terrorist leader after a marathon trial was told of his plans to cause mass casualties at landmark Melbourne sites.

Five followers have also been convicted of being members of his terrorist cell, which discussed bombing the Melbourne Cricket Ground on AFL grand final day and killing women and children in their pursuit of violent jihad.

Another four alleged members of the group were found not guilty and walked free from court on Monday.

Benbrika, 48, displayed no emotion as a Victorian Supreme Court jury found him guilty of intentionally directing the activities of a terrorist organisation and of being a member of a terrorist organisation.

The jury also found five of his followers - Aimen Joud, 23, of Hoppers Crossing, Fadl Sayadi, 28, of Coburg, Abdullah Merhi, 22, of Fawkner, Ezzit Raad, 26, of Preston, and Ahmed Raad, 24, also of Fawkner - guilty of being members of a terrorist organisation.

The four cleared men - Hany Taha, 33, of Hadfield, Bassam Raad, 26, of Brunswick, Majed Raad, 23, of Coburg, and Shoue Hammoud, 28, of Hadfield - made no comment as they walked free from court in central Melbourne, flanked by their lawyers.

Australia's biggest terrorism trial ran for 115 days. The jury deliberated for 21 days before returning its verdicts.

But jurors have more work to do. They are yet to reach verdicts on charges against Shane Kent and Amer Haddara and will continue deliberations on Tuesday.

The trial heard from more than 50 witnesses and was played thousands of hours of recordings captured by listening devices and telephone intercepts.

The jury heard that Benbrika, from the Melbourne suburb of Dallas, had told his followers it was "permissible to kill women, children and the aged" and that the group needed to kill at least 1000 non-believers to make the Australian government withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

He told one of his group: "If we want to die for jihad, we do maximum damage, maximum damage, damage their buildings with everything and damage their lives just to show them."