Home-grown jihad in Melbourne

INVESTIGATORS feared Melbourne’s home-grown terrorist group was planning a devastating explosion.

Abdullah Merhi

Terror cell member: Abdullah Merhi.

Keith Moor/Herald Sun

All the signs were there in 2004 and 2005 that the Melbourne terror cell led by extremist Muslim sheik Abdul Benbrika was planning something big.

Police knew Benbrika, 48, had made inquiries about getting chemicals to make a massive bomb.

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Undercover officers followed Benbrika as he travelled into secluded bush near Kilmore to watch a test explosion of a small bomb.

Police later secretly taped Benbrika discussing a 500kg version of the 500g test bomb he watched explode.

Benbrika was also taped bragging about what he hoped to achieve.

“We’ll damage buildings. Blast things . . . thinking big not small,” the firebrand cleric said.

“What we want to do is to do maximum damage and damage their property. Damage their lives.”

Victoria Police explosives expert John Kelleher gave evidence during the Benbrika terror trial that he did not know of any building in Melbourne that would not have been levelled by a bomb of the size Benbrika was discussing.

“There is not many buildings that would survive — 500kg is an enormous amount of explosive,” he said.

Police secretly taped Benbrika telling terror cell member Abdullah Merhi, 23, in September 2004 that the rulings of Allah meant it was permissible to carry out violent acts of jihad in Australia.

He said Allah permitted violent jihad against countries that were considered lands of war, and that Australia was a land of war because it had sent troops to Iraq in support of the US.

Merhi was told that it was his religious duty, his obligation as a Muslim, to do what he could to pursue violent jihad against any land of war, and that Australia was just such a land.

It was alleged in court that Merhi, who was convicted yesterday of being a member of Benbrika’s terror network, but not guilty of providing resources to it, was prepared to become Australia’s first suicide bomber.

Benbrika and Merhi spoke about the bombing of the Spanish commuter train system in Madrid earlier in 2004, which killed 191 people and wounded more than 2000.

The pair indicated it would be good to carry out a similar attack on Melbourne’s rail network.

Benbrika: “You shouldn’t just do, kill one or two or three, you need some good . . . like close to the station, the train.”

Merhi: “Yeah, like what’s been going on in . . .”

Benbrika: “Do a big thing.”

Merhi: “Like Spain. I’ve been thinking about this heaps, a lot, a lot, a lot, but the thing is, all this stuff is pleasing to Allah. It’s pleasing to Allah.”

Benbrika: “You are pleasing him. Why? Because they are killing our brothers.”

Merhi: “Have you ever seen the pictures of the American soldiers in Iraq doing to our women and stuff? I seen the pictures.”

Benbrika: “When you, in here, in Australia, when you do something they stop to send the troops. If you kill, we kill, here a thousand, the Government is going to think . . .”

Merhi: “Bring the troops back. Because if you get large numbers here the Government will listen.”

Benbrika: “May Allah reward you.”

Prosecution witness Izzydeen Atik gave evidence that Benbrika told him about about a planned attack on the MCG.

ASIO and police raids on Benbrika cell members forced the plotters to shelve plans to bomb the 2005 AFL Grand Final between the Sydney Swans and West Coast Eagles.

Mr Atik said Benbrika — who he knew by the name of Abu Bakr — then switched targets to a choice between a 2006 NAB cup game or Crown casino during the Grand Prix weekend.

“Abu Bakr told me of the targets that he intends to attack,” Mr Atik said.

“The AFL Grand Final was the original target and because of the raids and because of security reasons and funding they were to be off until the following year.”

ASIO raided Benbrika cell members just two months before Sydney beat the Eagles by four points in front of 91,898 fans at the MCG.

Benbrika was also secretly taped mentioning then prime minister John Howard on several occasions, such as this conversation on September 24, 2004, between Benbrika and alleged would-be suicide bomber Abdullah Merhi.

Merhi: “If the kuffar (unbelievers) does this to our Muslim people we’re allowed to do the same back.”

Benbrika: “That’s it.”

Merhi: “To their people.”

Benbrika: “Whoever transgresses you, transgress him as he transgresses you.”

Merhi: “If, for example, John, John Howard, kills innocent family, Muslim.”

Benbrika: “Yeah.”

Merhi: “Do we, we will make transgress back to him. Do we have to kill him and his family or can we just (inaudible, but the prosecution said the hard-to-hear word was kill) his people like, like (inaudible) people at the football?”

Benbrika: “If they kill our kids, we kill (inaudible) little kids.”

Merhi: “The innocent ones?”

Benbrika: “The innocent ones. Because he kills our innocent ones.”

Merhi: “And we send a message back to ’em.”

Benbrika: “That’s it.”

Merhi: “Eye, eye for an eye.”

Benbrika: “So the jihad exists here.”

Merhi: “Yeah, I want in on everything. If there is anything, if there is anything, you talk to me all right.”

Benbrika: “Allah willing.”