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Court Hearings Begin for Australian Terror Suspects


Australia has begun legal proceedings against some of the 18 men arrested this week in one of the largest anti-terrorist operations in the country's history.

A Sydney judge Friday denied bail to the first of 18 terror suspects to appear in court, saying the evidence appears to make him a security risk. The man is a refugee from Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Up to eight other suspects were appearing before the magistrate via video camera from their high security prisons. This is common practice for those accused high-risk crimes in Australia's justice system.

Australian police allege the men were stockpiling chemicals to make bombs for a large-scale but unspecified attack before they were stopped in a major raid earlier this week. At least 18 people have been detained in Sydney and Melbourne, including high profile Muslim cleric Abu Bakr, who is believed one of the leaders of the terrorist cells.

Defense lawyers says the prosecution's case is weak and complain that the suspects are being kept in solitary confinement with limited access to their families.

The cases come as Australia's conservative government is pushing to have new counter-terrorism legislation passed by the end of the year.

The legislation gives police greater powers to monitor, search and detain terrorism suspects. And it would allow law enforcement to arrest and convict terror suspects before an attack is identified or carried out.

Critics say current laws are adequate to deal with terrorist cases. This week's raids may prove the point since all 18 suspects were detained before any crime was actually committed.

Terrorism analyst Aldo Borju says the problem for authorities is to convince the country that tougher measures are needed.

"One of the dilemmas that the Australian government currently faces is police have proven that they can actually disrupt and foil alleged terrorist attacks with the existing legislation slightly amended," said Aldo Borju. "So the ones will be on them to actually prove why they need the wider laws."

Australia has never suffered a terrorist attack on its soil. But Australian tourists and nationals have been targeted in several major bombings in nearby Indonesia since 2002.

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