NATIONAL SECURITY: by John MillerNews Weekly
Terrorist trial a landmark in Australian justice
, March 6, 2010
I have often commented on the transience of news and the public's short attention-span. I wondered, as I was writing this piece, how many people would remember the significance of the date, Monday, February 15, 2010.
On that day in Sydney, at the Supreme Court of News South Wales, Justice Anthony Whealy sentenced five men from the city's west to jail terms of up to 28 years. They had been found guilty of conspiring to commit terrorist acts. However, owing to a court suppression order, which prevented the culprits from having their pictures or identities revealed, subsequent media reports of the trial outcome were somewhat skimpy and almost bereft of comment.
The judge noted that the accused had stockpiled chemicals and firearms for terrorist attacks on unspecified targets; but, most disturbingly, the stockpile had yet to be located.
The defendants were Australian citizens, both native-born and naturalised, and they had all pleaded innocent. Part of the evidence tendered during the hearings came from a former associate of the group who testified that they had considered bombing an Australian Rules football final in Melbourne in 2005 that was attended by almost 100,000 people, and discussed killing the then Prime Minister John Howard.
The Sydney press coyly reported that one of those found guilty had been trained in a paramilitary camp in Pakistan, and three others attended similar camps in New South Wales in preparation for the intended attack.
In his summing up, Justice Whealy declared that the group was motivated by "intolerant, inflexible, religious conviction" and had showed contempt for Australia's government, its leaders and the law of the land. Not unsurprisingly, he said that the men were likely to remain dangerous and unrepentant, appearing to "wear their imprisonment like some badge of honour".
He continued: "Each man's conviction was that the plight of Muslims in other lands demanded violent action in this country to redress those wrongs and, through fear and panic in the community, to change the government's policies."
That this was a landmark case is beyond dispute. The prosecution was unable to detail the exact nature of the plot and the target; but Justice Whealy, in reaching his decision, noted that the guilty clearly intended action that would have caused serious damage to property, if not deaths. He observed: "One particular feature of this trial was the fact that a considerable volume of extremist material was held by each offender in common with the other conspirators." (AoL News
, February 15, 2010).
Reporting was rather sparse, which was not surprising given the directions of the judge. The international media carried more details of the trial than local news outlets, especially the fact that this was a case of a plan to commit violent jihad on Australian soil and that the trial had been the longest terrorist case in Australia.
Predictably, reaction from the local Islamic community was swift and bitter. President of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Ikebal Patel, stated: "There is a real possibility that this might alienate some members of the Muslim community ... there's a lot of frustration and anger."
The ubiquitous Keysar Trad — for a long time spokesman for the controversial former Mufti of Australia, Sheik al-Hilaly, and currently president of the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia — declared: "It is very likely that there would have been a very large number of points along the way, where they would have reconsidered because they didn't want to kill anybody."
He added: "It seems our standard has changed from proving a crime beyond reasonable doubt to the possibility that they might have intended to commit a crime."
As for the stockpile of weapons and explosives, this did not, argued Mr Trad, "translate into a wilful intent to commit an act of terrorism". (Sydney Morning Herald
, February 17, 2010).
Blogging on mainstream media websites, however, strongly supported the decision of the NSW Supreme Court.
It says a great deal for the much-maligned anti-terrorist laws that convictions were secured and penalties imposed appropriate to the crime. It also shows that, contrary to the views of some pundits, the current Commonwealth Government is not soft on terrorism. And it must be said that Justice Whealy displayed commendable sang-froid and courage.
For the moment, the fate of the five putative terrorists is sealed. However, during their long incarceration, they are not necessarily likely to relinquish the strongly-held beliefs that led them to plan an attack on the scale outlined to the court.
The inherent problem of jailing those convicted under anti-terrorist legislation is that, as in the UK and US, these men will attempt to proselytise while inside. It is a well-established fact that jails are seats of higher learning for incarcerated terrorists. They will of course be allowed to have visitors who, presumably, will be described as Muslim clergy.
Once again, it has been proven that we are at war, and that Islamic fundamentalists with links to al Qaeda — or, in this case, probably with the Pakistan-based Islamic fundamentalist group, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) — will continue to probe our defences until the terrible day when they succeed in carrying out some deadly deed.John Miller is a former senior intelligence officer.