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More charged with terrorism offences in Australia

* Australia may ban Somalia-based Islamist group

* Charged man shouts out innocence in court

* Arrests coincide with concern about radicalised Westerners

* Government orders security review of military bases

(Adds four more men charged, court quotes, background)

By James Grubel

CANBERRA, Aug 5 (Reuters) – Australian police charged four more men on Wednesday with planning to attack an army base and shoot soldiers as the government considered whether to ban a Somalia militant group linked to the plot.

During a brief court hearing in Melbourne on Wednesday, one of those charged refused to stand before the court and then shouted at the presiding magistrate.

“You call me a terrorist? I have never killed a person in my life, said Wissam Mahmoud Fattal, 33, before he was led to a jail cell. “Your army kills innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan and Israel takes Palestinian land by force,” he said.

Australia has gradually tightened anti-terrorism laws since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, but analysts say the country remains a target because of its contribution to the Iraq war and its more than 1,500 troops in Afghanistan.

A total of five men have been charged with terrorism offences. All have been remanded in jail to reappear in the Melbourne Magistrate’s Court in Oct. 26.

The five, all Australian citizens with Somali and Lebanese backgrounds, were arrested in a series of police raids on Tuesday across Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, after a seven-month investigation.

Police said they had links to the al Qaeda-linked group, al Shabaab, in Somalia and had planned a commando-style attack to kill soldiers on a Sydney army base.

Prosecutors told the Melbourne Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday they had evidence some of the men had taken part in training in Somalia and at least one had engaged in frontline fighting in Somalia.


The arrests coincide with a surge in Western concern about radicalisation of some Western converts to Islam. On July 29 U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder warned of increased “radicalisation” of Americans going abroad and then returning home with the “aim of doing harm to the American people.”

He was speaking two days after seven people were arrested in North Carolina for allegedly plotting attacks overseas. Holder also expressed concerns about a group of young Somali men leaving the Minneapolis area to join al Shabaab.

Al Shabaab has been conducting an international recruitment campaign backed by al Qaeda’s propaganda network for fighters to join its push to take power in Somalia and impose strict Islamic rule. [ID:nSP461508]

Although al Shabaab plays up its link to the transnational network of Osama bin laden, analysts say attacking Western targets overseas is not its primary goal, which is overwhelmingly domestic.

But one consequence of its use of ethnic Somalis from the millions-strong diaspora community may be that veterans head home with the funds or skills to attack Western targets of their own volition, Western counter-terrorism officials say. [IDn:L4435286]

“The chances are extremely remote that this was Shabaab saying ‘Go off and strike Australia’,” said Will Hartley, Editor of Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre, a security consultancy and information provider.

Western officials worry that today’s chaotic Somalia resembles Afghanistan in the 1990s, when militants, including bin Laden’s associates, used the safe haven of ungoverned areas on the Pakistan border to plan attacks on Western targets.

While the United States has labelled al Shabaab a terrorist organisation, the group is not banned under Australian terrorism laws. Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said the government would review that.

“We’re dealing with a very serious situation here,” Smith told Sky television. “We’re dealing here with an international phenomenon.”

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the government would consider expert advice on whether to proscribe al Shabaab, but he would not debate the merits of any ban publicly.


Lawyers who have acted in previous terrorism trials in Australia said the fact al Shabaab was not banned in Australia would complicate the prosecution case.

“If a group is proscribed, you can be charged automatically. If it is not proscribed, you have to prove that the organisation is a terrorist organisation,” barrister Greg Barnes told the Australian newspaper.

Rudd said the government had ordered a review of security at all military bases following the arrests, even though Australian Defence Force Commander Angus Houston had said arrangements were adequate.

Australia has not suffered a peacetime attack on home soil since a bombing outside a Sydney hotel during a Commonwealth meeting in 1978 that killed three people. Some 95 Australians have been killed in bomb attacks in Indonesia since 2002.

Source: Reuters

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