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Australia Sentences Terrorist  to 9 Years in Prison - 2004-06-01

Australia has sentenced its first convicted terrorist to nine years in jail for plotting to blow up the Israeli Embassy in Canberra. Prosecutors had called for the maximum penalty of 25 years for British-born Jack Roche who confessed to working with the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Jack Roche, 50, a Muslim convert, is the first man convicted under Australia's new anti-terror laws.

Australia's Attorney General Philip Ruddock says the nine-year sentence reflects the seriousness of the crime.

"It is a serious, a very serious offense and the penalty that has been applied by the court is quite significant," he said.

On the tenth day of trial in the city of Perth, Roche Friday changed his plea to "guilty," admitting he had conspired with the terrorist groups al- Qaida and Jemaah Islamiyah to bomb the Israeli embassy in Canberra four years ago.

Roche told the court how he traveled to Afghanistan in March 2000 where he met al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, underwent explosives training, and agreed to identify U.S. and Jewish targets in Australia for the terrorist network.

Roche carried out surveillance on the Israeli Embassy in Canberra and tried unsuccessfully to recruit Caucasian Muslims into a terror cell.

Roche testified that he eventually feared for his life and that he had tried to contact Australia's intelligence agency ASIO to warn them of terrorist activities in the country, but was not taken seriously. The ASIO has since changed its procedures because of this case.

In Perth, West Australian Premier Geoff Gallop said Roche's case highlights the need for federal and state intelligence authorities to work together more closely.

"In a federal system there are always this potential for there to be a gap between the two sides of government," said Mr. Gallop. "And we have got to be vigilant to make sure the federal authorities, who sometimes can be a long way away, are kept in tune with what is happening."

Outside the court, Roche's lawyer, Hinton Quail, said since his arrest his client gave authorities considerable information, some of which helped lead to the arrests of the militant leaders Hambali and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed last year.

District Court Judge Paul Healy said sentencing Roche was difficult, because there were no precedents. He set a non-parole period of four years, but taking into account time already served, Roche could be free within three years.