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    Court Told Australian Terror Suspects 'Inspired' by Bin Laden

    Phil Mercer

    Prosecutors in Australia say that 13 men arrested in the country's largest counter-terrorism operation were inspired by Osama bin Laden and were committed to violent jihad. The men have been accused of plotting a bombing campaign in Australia.

    The 13 suspects face a range of charges including membership in a terrorist organization.

    One of the defendants is accused of undergoing weapons and explosives training at a camp in Afghanistan run by the al-Qaida terror network.

    Prosecutors told the court in a pre-trial hearing that the group's alleged spiritual leader, Abdul Nacer Benbrika, had urged his followers to wreak havoc in Australian cities.

    The cleric is alleged to have told the group that if they wanted to die for jihad they should "do maximum damage … damage to their buildings and … damage their lives."

    Abdul Nacer Benbrika is one of the 13 accused and is being held in prison. His lawyer said the cleric had refused to attend this hearing Monday, saying that he had been assaulted on a previous occasion while being transported from prison.

    The men have been charged under tough anti-terrorism legislation the Australian government introduced after the attacks in the United States in September 2001.

    Outside the court in the southern city of Melbourne a small group of civil rights activists demanded the laws be torn up.

    They say the laws are vague and designed to crack down on Australia's Muslim community, claims strongly denied by the authorities.

    Protester Kim Bullimore says the laws should be scrapped.

    "Civil Rights Defense has organized this protest because we want to draw attention to the draconian nature of the new anti-terror laws that have been introduced by the Howard government and have been supported by the Labor opposition," said Bullimore.

    The court in Melbourne will decide if there is sufficient evidence for the 13 suspects to go on trial.

    Ten of the men were arrested in police raids in Melbourne last November.

    The other three were detained in March this year. The suspects - aged between 21 and 46 - have denied all of the charges.

    The hearing is scheduled to resume next week.

     

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