Karen Kissane All 12 accused are charged with having intentionally been members of a terrorist organisation that was involved in the fostering, or preparation of, a terrorist act involving weapons or explosives in the pursuit of violent jihad, with the intention of coercing or intimidating the Government or the public. Ten of the men also face other charges. All have pleaded not guilty.
ABDUL NACER BENBRIKA
Married and a father of seven, the Algerian-born Benbrika is 47 and the oldest of the accused. He lived in Dallas and taught Arabic and lectured on Islam. Two other charges: directing the alleged terrorist organisation and knowingly possessing a compact disc connected with the preparation of a terrorist act.
The prosecution relies on many of Benbrika’s own words in covert recordings, such as his claim about wanting “maximum damage” and “to die for jihad”, as well as his comment that Australia would withdraw its troops from Iraq “if … we kill here a thousand”.
Lead prosecutor Richard Maidment also pointed to conversations with secret agent SIO 39. In one, Benbrika spoke of wanting money to buy weapons and chemicals, saying, “This is all needed.” In another, the agent tells Benbrika he could get an ingredient of fertiliser that can be used to make explosives. The agent told Benbrika it would take up to 75 kilos to destroy a suburban house.
Benbrika asked, “Even if you would like to get 500 kilo, can you get them?”
Benbrika had also possessed “the Mansura CD”, a vast library of documents and videos extolling violent jihad, killing the kuffr (unbelievers) and martyrdom, Maidment said.
Benbrika’s lawyer Remy Van de Wiel, QC, said his client was no instigator and put the brake on others impatient for activity. At times, his alleged followers could be heard laughing at him: “He’s often not taken seriously by members of this group.”
Van de Wiel said SIO 39 was an agent provocateur and the only person who had the skill to put together even a simple explosive. He said there was no physical evidence such as fingerprints or computer links to show that Benbrika had ever handled the Mansura CD found in a suitcase in a bedroom in his house.
He also argued that the pledge was not “a bayat to engage in acts of jihad at all. It’s a religious bayat to obey the prophet and his messenger.”
Now aged 23, He had an alleged role in what the Crown calls the “consultative committee”. He is married and used to work in the building trade and live in Hoppers Crossing.
Four other charges: acting as an administrator of, and attempting to make funds available to, the alleged terror organisation; and possessing two CDs connected with the preparation of a terrorist act.
In September 2004, Joud and Ahmed Raad were covertly recorded talking in the garage of Ezzit Raad, who was protesting over the fact that they wanted to store a stolen car with him. He kept saying he could not see how this was right before Allah.
Joud told him it was not possible to just walk in and take weapons; money was needed to get them, and “the pleasures of Allah is expensive”.
The Crown said this was evidence that Joud knew it was a terrorist organisation, and that the purpose of making money from the car was to buy weapons.
Defence lawyer Trevor Wraight said, “It is just tough talk. It is bravado. He is 19.”
The witness Atik claimed that Joud managed intelligence for the group, and Fadl Sayadi was once recorded as saying that he and Joud were “the elders” of the organisation.
Wraight argued that the “consultative committee” simply did not exist. He said there were no listening device conversations where its three alleged members, Joud, Sayadi and Ahmed Raad, were talking alone. “They don’t meet. They don’t talk. They don’t plan.”
Now 31, he trained overseas in a paramilitary camp in 2001 where he learned about weapons, explosives and topography. He worked as a forklift driver and then as a concreter, was a practising Muslim and lived with his wife in Meadow Heights. He faces only the charge of being a member.
The prosecution points to a conversation in 2004 where several of the men are talking about police raids on members of the group. Maidment said, “Kent says words to the effect that the authorities wanted to see if they… had plans of infrastructure of Melbourne and if (they) had targets.”
Maidment said that in 2005, Kent was recorded saying he suspected a contact was an ASIO informer, and that the suspected informer had suggested to him that “the two of them should do something together, meaning commit a terrorist act.”
Kent’s computer contained material including the Mansura CDs and extracts of the Mujahid Handbook, the prosecution alleged.
Defence lawyer John O’Sullivan told the jury that his client “was never, ever exposed to the blasting, killing, damaging, thieving exhortations of the chameleon sheikh… There is absolutely no evidence that Shane Kent is motivated to carry through some kind of act of mass murder.”
As for the paramilitary camp – O’Sullivan said, “There is no logical … connection between undertaking some form of military training and becoming a member of a terrorist organisation.”
Allegedly also a member of the “consultative committee”, he helped keep the group together and watched out for its security, the Crown claimed. He warned Benbrika to be careful of ‘Ahmed’ (the police agent SIO 39). He is married and now aged 28. He used to live in Coburg and work as a forklift driver and concreter.
Other charge: having provided resources to the alleged organisation by acting as a leader.
Prosecutor Maidment said the roles adopted by Sayadi and Joud were made clear inconversations that showed Sayadi and Joud “organising the troops, determining who should go, who should stay, who should be contacted and so on”.
Lawyer Nola Karapangiotidis pointed out that the alleged “consultative committee” in fact “never actually met as a commitee to consult”. Sayadi had gone on the Sydney trip in December 2004 but “there is no evidence whatsoever that Fadl Sayadi had contact with so-called Sydney men or associates while he was there.”
Sayadi also went on to the camp to Louth, NSW, but a battery later found at the site might well have been there for years, and an explosives expert had not supported the Crown’s claim that it was an experimental sparking device, Karapanagiotidis said.
Now aged 33, he had his own panel-beating business and lived in Hadfield with his wife and three children. Allegedly tried to raise money by cutting up stolen cars and selling them for parts.
Other charge: Having intentionally tried to make funds available to an alleged terror organisation.
The prosecution pointed to a conversation in which Taha told Benbrika, following police raids, that he thought the real target of interest was not stolen cars, but letting ASIO have access to the men’s homes and that other exchanges between Taha and Benbrika showed that Taha knew another member of the group supposedly wanted to make himself available for a terrorist act.
Maidment also directed the jury towards Taha’s possession of hard copies and computer files from parts of the jihadi library.
Defence lawyer James Montgomery SC said the other men were always complaining that Taha contributed very little money to the sandooq. He was involved in the car scheme, but there was no evidence the money from that went to the alleged terrorist organisation, Montgomery said. He possessed no documents or videos about how to make bombs; and the only things he managed were innocuous issues such as whether the group should rent a house.
The youngest of the accused, he is now 22 and was a teenager for most of the relevant period. The main allegation is that he had offered “to be a suicide bomber” – the phrase his lawyer used when describing the charge as obscenely unjust. Merhi, married with one child, lived in Fawkner.
Other charge: Having intentionally provided resources to the alleged terrorist organisation by undertaking to engage in a terrorist act.
Merhi was taped asking Benbrika whether it would be right under Islam to kill then Prime Minister John Howard if his policies killed innocent Muslim families. In another exchange that the prosecution claims was about his impatience to help commit a terrorist act, Merhi told Benbrika he did not want to wait even two years, and asked whether Allah would “open the door” for him soon.
The prosecution also pointed to the exchange about doing “something big” “like Spain”. Merhi was also the person to whom Benbrika made the comment about killing a thousand people here.
His lawyer, Mark Taft SC, said his client was a young man who sought legal advice on the rights of Muslims to pray at work and then put together a pamphlet on the topic for distribution to the Islamic community.
Merhi had asked “many foolish questions” in conversations with Benbrika but had also fired off many challenging questions in which he expressed doubts about Benbrika’s line and asked for proof in the Koran that Benbrika was right, Taft said.
“What Abdullah is saying here is not code for violent jihad.”
The John Howard question was a theoretical one, asked to tease out Benbrika’s interpretation of a text in the Koran, he said, and in other conversations Merhi vehemently condemned Islamic violence.
Aged 26, he lived in Brunswick.
Other charge: Having made $1000 available to the organisation on November 5, 2004.
Crown witness Izzydeen Atik said Bassam Raad once told him that he wanted to be a suicide bomber and was waiting for a command.
The prosecution said Bassam Raad used credit card fraud to raise money for the group, and he is heard in one conversation giving $1000 to Benbrika “for the jemaah” (the group).
His lawyer, Benjamin Lindner, told the court that Atik had been recorded making threats to kill Bassam Raad and his whole family and probably had a grudge against him. “You could conclude from them that Mr Atik had a special hate reserved for Bassam Raad which gives him a motive to make… wicked and outrageous allegations.”
Linder said Bassam Raad had never been recorded speaking of jihad and did not possess any parts of the alleged common library.
The purchase of a gun could have been for his personal use; there was no evidence he expected the sandooq to permanently finance it, Lindner said.
Allegedly the treasurer of the sandooq, Ahmed Raad, now 25, lived in Fawkner with his wife and child before his arrest. He earned money by selling phone cards.
Other charges: having intentionally attempted to make funds available to the alleged terrorist organisation and intentionally providing resources to the alleged organisation by acting as its treasurer.
The prosecution case against Ahmed Raad relies partly on the garage conversation in which Joud talked to him and Ezzit Raad about the need to steal and strip cars to buy weaponsfor the organisation and in pursuit of violent jihad.
Maidment also said the “common library” of jihadi material was on Ahmed Raad’s computer.
Defence lawyer McMahon pointed to conversations in which his client had condemned violence and terrorism.
When asked by police about his understanding of a terrorist act, Ahmed Raad said instantly, “Killing of innocent people.” He also told police that the sandooq was a box that anyone could put money in to help someone in need.
On the garage conversation about using money from the stolen car to buy weapons, McMahon said, “Clearly, the evidence is there is no purchase of weapons from the sandooq. Don’t judge the young man on a throwaway comment in a late-night argument with his brother with the adrenaline pumping.”
Before his arrest, he worked as an electrician and lived in Hadfield with his wife and two children. He is now 28.
Other charge: having made a sum of money available to the alleged organisation.
“He’s not a firebrand. He’s a respected member of the community living his life in a pretty ordinary way,” said his lawyer, David Brustman.
But in 2004, while driving to Beirut airport, Shoue Hammoud received a call from fellow accused Fadl Sayadi, who told him he had heard that his name and others had been given to Lebanese intelligence. Hammoud replied, “If anything happens, get the brothers together, man. Get some money together or something.”
Said Maidment, “There is a recognition by both Fadl Sayadi and Shoue Hammoud of the existence of a group…”
Brustman said, “Nowhere in the (Lebanon) phone call can you discern that Shoue knows what on earth this man is talking about…This is serious stuff. ‘You’re on the international wanted list.’ No discussion whatsoever by Mr Hammoud with his so-called leader.”
Aged 26, of Preston, he is an electrician and married, two children.
A stolen Honda Prelude was found in his garage.
Other charge: Having intentionally attempted to make funds available to the alleged terrorist organisation.
In July 2005, a gathering of men at Benbrika’s were talking about how the London bombings a week earlier had killed 52. Ezzit Raad said, “Should have been more.” In September 2004, he was covertly recorded talking to others in his garage, protesting over the fact that they wanted to store a stolen car with him. He kept saying he could not see how this was right before Allah.
Aimen Joud told him it was not possible to just walk in and take weapons; money was needed to get them, and “the pleasures of Allah is expensive”. Ezzit’s brother Ahmed said to him, “You’ll point a gun at a kuffar’s head and shoot him but you won’t put the stolen car here.”
Ezzit Raad replied: “This is different, all right? Don’t put that with this.”
Prosecutor Maidment said, ‘ “He clearly knew what the purpose of the exercise was.”
His defence lawyer, Greg Barns, said he participated in only 23 of the 482 conversations, and only nine contained “hot words or phrases… such as jihad, mujahideen, kuffr.” The comment that more should have died in the London bombing was appalling, Barns said, but “this is not a court of morality. This is not a court of taste, and to seek to elevate this comment to something which it is not is something which ought not be done”.
Now 23, of Coburg, he worked as an electrician.
He faces only the charge of being a member of a terrorist organisation.
He was present for two conversations in which Benbrika touched on violence. On 30 April 2005, the exchange was: Benbrika: Let me give you an example. You’re sitting here, for no reason, the cops gonna kill one of your brothers, what are you gonna do? Pray, bury him and be patient?
Majed Raad: Nothing you can do.
Benbrika and another man say there is. Benbrika: ‘If there was unity, with strong bond… Every day, a cop has to die.”
Majed Raad: Yeah.
His defence lawyer, Gerard Mullaly, said his client was just interested in religion and was part of a wider circle of people who contact with Benbrika. He had no skills for, and no role in, any alleged organisation. Mullaly said Majed Raad went on the Sydney trip but argued that he was probably invited because they needed someone to share the driving. “Whatever this trip was about, Majed Raad did not know.”
Aged 28, of Yarraville, he ran a haj travel business. He was covertly recorded giving an alleged “bayat”, or pledge of allegiance.
Other charge: Being in possession of a computer that he knew was connected with the preparation of a terrorist act.
On 17 September 2005, Amer Haddara was at Benbrika’s house and Benbrika was giving guidance on when it was permissible under Islam to kill the women and children of the kuffr. In Arabic, Benbrika said, “The scholars’ opinion is that the women and children of the kuffr are not to be killed intentionally but if killing the fathers cannot happen except by hitting those, then it is permissible.”
Haddara told Benbrika hewould like to be remembered in this life by my brothers to have changed something in this world” and that he was looking for someone to tell him what to do. Benbrika told him the first step was to make “a pledge of jihad”, or bayat. Haddara did, promising, “I pledge you to obey Allah and his messenger, and if I disobey Allah and his messenger … then I will disobey you.”
Haddara’s lawyer, Antony Trood, said the bayat was a religious pledge that had nothing to do with terrorism, and at the first document Benbrika sent him afterwards was not about “sinister training” but a text on monotheism.
Haddara’s wish to be remembered for having changed the world was “the classic statement of an idealistic young man”.
First published in The Age.