Leader not a violent man, court hears

CONVICTED jihadi terrorist leader Abdul Nacer Benbrika had major depression and a history of abusing painkillers, the Supreme Court was told at his plea hearing yesterday.
His lawyer, Remy van de Wiel, QC, said Benbrika had seen a psychiatrist about his depression before he was arrested and he had stomach problems from his overuse of painkillers.
Mr van de Wiel said Benbrika’s health problems were the reason he used to be on a disability support pension.
Benbrika, 48, was convicted in September of being a member and leader of a terrorist organisation and of possessing a compact disc connected to the preparation of a terrorist act. Six other men were convicted with him.
Mr van de Wiel said yesterday the organisation had never been more than embryonic and that Benbrika and the others had never had weapons, training or a plan.
Benbrika was not a man of violence and his remarks that he wanted to see maximum damage in an explosion were never converted into action, he said.
Prosecutor Nicholas Robinson, SC, argued that the absence of death or destruction was not a mitigating factor because such acts would have warranted different charges.
He said a psychiatrist who examined Benbrika had found him unshakeable in his views and this comment in the medical report followed a reference to zealotry.
In a written submission, the Crown said Benbrika’s conduct was uniquely malevolent: “(He) attracted the dedication of younger men … by corrupting the teachings of Islam, inculcating a sense of belonging to a select brotherhood whose members alone walked a path of right and truth.”
There was no evidence suggesting remorse or recanting by Benbrika of the insidious ideology he preached, which meant he was at high risk of reoffending, the submission said.
Mr van de Wiel said Benbrika had not inculcated jihadi views in the others but merely mirrored their own sentiments back to them.
Benbrika’s family was not in court only because lawyers had advised them to avoid the media. Mr van de Wiel told Justice Bernard Bongiorno: “You should not (get) the idea that he has been abandoned. He has not.”
Benbrika will be sentenced on a date to be fixed.

First published in The Age.