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Australia Police Arrested 17 Terror Suspects In Raids


Police in Australia say they have foiled a plot to carry out a major terror attack, following the arrest of 17 men in raids in Australia's two largest cities. A radical Muslim cleric known for praising Osama bin Laden is among the captured suspects. He is charged with masterminding the plot. VOA's Robert Raffaele has more.

More than 500 police were involved in raids across Sydney and Melbourne. Eight men were arrested in Sydney, another nine in Melbourne. Authorities seized weapons, computers, chemicals, and backpacks.

New South Wales Police Commissioner Ken Moroney said possible bomb-making materials were found. Prosecutors say the items are similar to those used in July's terror attacks in London.

"The linkages appeared to be common in the sense of the chemicals that appeared to have been used in London and the chemicals which we will allege were being gathered, or being sought, here both in New South Wales and Victoria."

Prosecutors say the suspects are committed to violent jihad against Australians.

Supporters of the suspects clashed with television cameramen outside courthouses in Melbourne and Sydney, and

Rob Starry, an attorney for eight of the Melbourne suspects, said they were not charged with terrorism. "Although it's been suggested that they've been charged in the planning and preparation of a terrorist offense, that's not reflected in these charges, and it's not reflected in the interrogations that we know so far."

One of the Melbourne suspects is the alleged mastermind, Abu Bakr, an Algerian-Australian Muslim cleric who has been quoted as saying he would violate his faith if he did not encourage his students to join the jihad, or holy war, in Iraq.

Australia has never been hit by a major terror attack, but its citizens have been targeted overseas, particularly in neighboring Indonesia, where dozens of Australians have been killed in bomb blasts since 2002.

Last week, Prime Minister John Howard rushed through Parliament an amendment to terror laws he said would strengthen police powers to arrest anyone plotting attacks.

Melbourne police say those new powers allowed them to carry out Tuesday's raids.

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