Courts were lily-livered in their approach to would-be killersÂ Â Â (David Penberthy /Herald Sun)
ONE of the more striking photographs from the sadly crowded files of modern Australian terrorist coverage came in 2005, when 17 men were arrested for plotting the murder of hundreds of civilians in a bombing campaign against major landmarks in Sydney and Melbourne.
When the men were rounded up by the Australian Federal Police, two of their wives decided to go public. They said their husbands were just normal Aussies, good blokes going about their business, who loved Australia and wished no one any harm.
The women were photographed in a normal suburban backyard with a Hills Hoist and a barbecue in the background. Both women were wearing full body-length niqabs and peering through the slots in their medieval outfits to say that they were no different from any other group of Australians.
As a public relations exercise, this little photo opportunity wasn’t exactly a roaring success. It was an unnerving photograph, in that it demonstrated not so much an ignorance of the Australian mainstream but a religiously inspired determination to live outside of the mainstream, in keeping with the most extreme adherence to a radical interpretation of Islam.
The photograph was made even more disturbing by the evidence that emerged in relation to the women’s respective partners.
The AFP had amassed a watertight case showing that the terror cell had advanced plans to bomb targets including the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Grand Final day in 2005, as well as Sydney’s Lucas Heights nuclear reactor, the Australian Taxation Office and Crown casino on the weekend of the Formula One Grand Prix.
The device they planned to build went by the name of a Mother of Satan bomb. They had bought or ordered all the fertiliser they needed to unleash their own brand of hell.
You would think that any level of involvement in this enterprise would preclude you from re-entering civil society, once you had been tried and found guilty. You would be wrong.
There are two features to this case that are disturbing. The first goes to the power of prison to reform people who would deliberately do harm to the civilian population, while the second goes to whether the courts are applying the full force of the law in cases as serious as this one.
Two of the conspirators in this terror plot, Aimen Joud and Ahmed Raad, are now free and happily walking the streets of Melbourne, despite the fact that it seems like only yesterday that the plot was foiled and the trial began. In relative terms, it certainly seems like only yesterday. In 2008, Joud and Raad were jailed for eight years but their non-parole period has now expired and they were released last week.
We can hope against hope that these two men used their (short) time in prison to reflect on their actions ahead of their arrest, and to choose a new path.
Frankly, and depressingly, it would seem remarkable if they did. We know from the police investigation that while the pair were under surveillance by the AFP, they liked to pass their time laughing while watching videos of jihadists beheading their hostages.
If someone has a convincing argument as to why these ornaments to society should ever be back on the streets, I’d like to hear it.
The really troubling thing is that the courts had an opportunity to extend the length of time the pair would spend in jail, but chose not to pursue it. The rationale was in part based on the cost of a second trial. None of us like seeing taxpayer dollars wasted, but I reckon that many Australians would have almost been prepared to pay for a second trial themselves.
JOUD and Raad were scheduled to face a second trial this year on charges of conspiracy to do acts in preparation of a terrorist act. But the Supreme Court ruled that on the balance of probabilities any subsequent trial was unlikely to add significantly to their prison time.
The court ruled that a guilty verdict on the conspiracy charges would add between 5 and 20 per cent to their overall criminality. Justice Terry Forrest said such a trial would be “lengthy, complex and expensive” and ordered a permanent stay.
The handling by the courts of these two would-be mass assassins has been lily-livered. It shows how the courts through their sentencing practices will take a massive gamble, on behalf of the public, that prisons can succeed in reforming people who would happily destroy civilisation.
It also shows how, even when an opportunity is there to keep them inside a while longer, the courts will still take a unilateral decision to chuck it in anyway and let them walk.
President Barack Obama is in town this week. There will be lots of talk about the 60th anniversary of the ANZUS alliance and about how Australia and the US are lock-step in the war on terror.
That’s all terrific, but personally I would be happier to see meaningful action from the Federal Government on the stronger application of the terror laws, and their interpretation by the courts, against people who think football matches are a valid target in their warped war against humankind.
- Terrorists on the loose in MelbournePerth Now,Â 18 hours ago
- Terror men still a threatHerald Sun,Â 1 day ago
- Editorial: Terrorists to walk freeAdelaide Now,Â 22 Sep 2011
- Abdul Benbrika escapes bomb plot trialCourier Mail,Â 22 Sep 2011
- Former minister let Benbrika stayHerald Sun,Â 22 Sep 2011
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