Abdul Nacer Benbrika
|Abdul Nacer Benbrika|
|Intentionally being the leader and a member of a terrorist organisation|
|15 years jail with a non-parole period of 12 years|
|Criminal status||In custody|
|Conviction(s)||Guilty on 15 September 2008|
Abdul Nacer Benbrika (Arabic: عبد الناصر بن بريكة) (born in Algeria about 1960), also known as Abu Bakr (Arabic: أبو بكر), was one of 17 men arrested in the Australian cities of Sydney and Melbourne in November 2005, charged with being members of a terrorist organisation and of planning terrorist attacks on targets within the country. Benbrika is alleged to be the spiritual leader of the group. All 17 men pleaded not guilty. On 15 September 2008 Benbrika was found guilty on the charge of intentionally being the leader and a member of a terrorist organisation.
Benbrika was born in Algeria: various sources give his age as 45 or 46 as of November 2005. He was trained as an aircraft engineer. He arrived in Australia in May 1989 on a one-month visitor's permit, on which he twice gained extensions, and settled in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, an area with a large Muslim population. After his permit expired in 1990 he became a prohibited non-citizen, then spent the next six years fighting through the Immigration Review Tribunal appeals process, for the right to stay. During his hearings he told the tribunal of his "love of the Australian lifestyle".
In 1992 Benbrika married a Lebanese woman who was an Australian citizen, with whom he had seven children. He was granted Australian residence in 1996 and became a citizen in 1998, although he is reported to have retained his Algerian citizenship as well. He has been on government welfare benefits for so many years and this has become a topic of debate.
Standing in the Muslim community
His teachings became increasingly politicised after the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. This came at a time when the Muslim community was under intense scrutiny from the Australian government and media outlets. Abu Bakr began teaching smaller groups on a less formal basis after he refused the requests of more formal organisations that he tone down his teachings.
Islamic Council of Victoria board member Waleed Aly said Benbrika's group was "a splinter of a splinter of a splinter. Most Muslims had never heard of him until he appeared on the ABC's [7.30 Report]." Waleed Aly was quoted as saying. "... He formed his own group with a handful of young men who he calls his students." Benbrika's students included a number of those arrested along with him in November, one of whom is alleged to have undergone military training in Afghanistan.
Benbrika came to public attention when he told an Australian ABC interviewer: "Osama bin Laden, he is a great man. Osama bin Laden was a great man before 11 September, which they said he did it, until now nobody knows who did it." He was quoted as defending Muslims fighting against coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and said anyone who fought in the name of God would be forgiven their sins. "According to my religion, jihad is a part of my religion and what you have to understand is that anyone who fights for the sake of Allah, when he dies, the first drop of blood that comes from him out all his sin will be forgiven."
During 2004 and 2005 Australian security agencies had Benbrika under surveillance as a possible instigator of terrorist acts. In March his passport was withdrawn on advice from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), and ASIO agents raided his Melbourne home in June. In November, according to media reports, ASIO became convinced that Benbrika's group, and affiliated group in Sydney, was actively planning a terrorist attack. It was at this time that the federal government was introducing new anti-terrorism legislation, the Australian Anti-Terrorism Act 2005. It is said that on the advice of ASIO, the Australian Parliament amended the law relating to terrorism, broadening the definition of planning 'a' terrorist act. A few days later police raids in Sydney and Melbourne arrested Benbrika and 16 other men, one of whom was shot after allegedly opening fire on police in Sydney. It has also been said that the timing of the arrests was planned to coincide with the new laws.
Benbrika and his 12 fellow defendants (including Shane Kent, Fadal Sayadi, Ahmed Raad, Amer Haddara, Abdulla Merhi Ezzit Raad, Hany Taha and Aimen Joud) appeared in a Melbourne magistrate's court the day after their arrest. All are of Muslim immigrant backgrounds except Kent, who is a convert. Benbrika was charged with "directing the activities of a terrorist organization." He did not apply for bail and was remanded in custody. Several of his fellow defendants applied for bail on numerous occasions during their pre-trial remand detention in the maximum security Acacia Unit of Barwon Prison, from November 2005 until their trial began in February 2008.
Government and police officials said the group was stockpiling chemicals that could have been used to make explosives, Butthey had not been charged with this offense. According to the Melbourne Herald Sun, the group was "plotting a terrorist spectacular on the scale of the al-Qaeda attacks on London and Madrid." The explosive device they were assembling was called the "Mother of Satan" by the jihadists. Victorian police commissioner Christine Nixon said she believed the arrests, which came after 16 months of police surveillance, had "seriously disrupted the activities of a group intent on carrying out a terrorist attack". The raids were planned after new information was obtained, she said. She said although the group had no known specific target, "We were concerned that the attack was imminent, and we believe that we have sufficient evidence that will go before the courts to show that."
In an interview before his arrest, Benbrika denied he was involved in terrorist activities. "I am not involved in anything here," he said. "I am teaching my brothers here the Koran and the Sunnah, and I am trying my best to keep myself, my family, my kids and the Muslims close to their religion."
In company with the other defendants, Benbrika appeared in a Melbourne court in March 2007, under extremely strict security. The proceedings of the case are subject to severe reporting restrictions in Victoria.
The trial of Benbrika began in October 2007. He and 11 other accused were charged of terrorism offences. The case was presided over by Justice Bernard Bongiorno and was initially prosecuted by Nick Robinson, but later trials included Richard Maidment SC as prosecutor. Benbrika was represented by Remy Van de Weil QC with Josh Taaffe of Doogue & O'Brien (now Doogue O'Brien George) instructing him.
At a hearing in February 2008, the prosecution in its opening remarks outlined the details of 500 phone conversations, recorded by telephone intercepts and hidden listening devices, between Benbrika and the 11 men in his group also on trial. Prosecutors alleged phone records revealed the group's plans: "to cause maximum damage. To cause the death of a thousand ... by use of a bomb."
They allege the group led by Benbrika was "bent on violent jihad" and "planned terrorist attacks on football games or train stations to maximise deaths" and that Benbrika said that in some cases it was theologically permissible to "kill women, children and the elderly".
The court was told how Benbrika allegedly used at least 10 different mobile phones that were registered under false names and addresses.
The jury in the case retired to consider its verdict on 20 August 2008. On 15 September Benbrika was found guilty on the charge of intentionally being the leader and a member of a terrorist organisation.
On 3 February 2009 Supreme Court Justice Bernard Bongiorno sentenced Benbrika to 15 years jail with a non-parole period of 12 years. In his comments Bongiorno said the word jihad had many meanings in Islam, but Benbrika had warped the term to mean "only a violent attack by his group to advance the Islamic cause". Bongiorno also said evidence "suggested that Benbrika was still committed to violent jihad, had shown no contrition for his offences and had talked about continuing the group's activities behind bars if its members were jailed".
Apart from the charges of Intentionally being a member of a terrorist organisation and Intentionally directing activities of a terrorist organisation, Benbrika was also convicted in a later trial of Possession of a thing connected with preparation for a terrorist act. But a further ruling in March 2011 has found him not guilty of this later charge. This conviction for the offence of Possession of a thing connected with preparation for a terrorist act was quashed, with the court concluding "that the trial judge had misdirected the jury as to the requirements for establishing that offence." His sentence for the charge of Intentionally being a member of a terrorist organisation was also reduced from 7 to 5 years.
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