Jurors in Australia's biggest terrorism trial found six Muslim men guilty of being members of an extremist group that plotted to wage what prosecutors called "violent jihad" in the city of Melbourne. Four other men have been acquitted of related charges. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.
The jury found Abdul Nacer Benbrika, a Muslim cleric, guilty of planning to stage a violent religious war in Melbourne three years ago. Five of his followers were convicted of forming a terrorist organization.
The court was told that Benbrika's group had planned to attack a high-profile Australian-rules football match in Melbourne that attracted almost 100,000 fans. The prosecution also said the men had discussed killing the former Australian prime minister, John Howard, and identified railway stations as possible targets.
The cleric allegedly told his supporters that it was permissible to kill women, children and the elderly.
Prosecutors said the plot was aimed at forcing the Australian government to pull its troops out of Iraq. The case against the suspects relied heavily on telephone conversations that were intercepted by the authorities.
The defendants denied the charges but were found guilty after the jury had deliberated for four weeks. All face life in prison and they will be sentenced later. An appeal is likely.
Defense lawyers said it was the suspects' bravado that led them to discuss violent attacks but insisted they had no ability to carry them out.
Benbrika's lawyer Remy Van de Weil says the trial has taken its toll on his client.
"He has been, I think, very stressed throughout these entire proceedings," said Van de Weil. ."I'll speak to him in the next day or so and he can let me know what he wants to do."
Four other men were found not guilty of terrorism charges, among them 23-year-old Majed Raad.
His lawyer, Gerard Mullally, is happy with the verdict.
"I'm glad for Majed Raad that the ordeal is over and that he can now go home and resume his life,. he said. "
The jury is still considering verdicts on two more defendants.
The judge has warned jurors not to let any prejudice they may hold towards Muslims cloud their judgment when deciding the case.
Australia has never suffered a terrorist attack and the government lists current threat levels as "medium."