Islamist fanatics plotted Australia's worst terrorist attack on army base
Three Islamist fanatics plotted to attack one of the country's largest army bases and kill as many people as possible in what would have been the worst terror attack on Australian soil.
The radicalised Muslim men were yesterday found guilty of planning the brazen attack on Holsworthy Army Base, a training area and artillery range on the outskirts of Sydney that can host up to 2,000 soldiers at a time.
Wissam Mahmoud Fattal, 34, Saney Edow Aweys, 27, and Nayef El Sayed, 26 – all Australian citizens of Somali or Lebanese origin – plotted to walk into the base with high-powered weapons and shoot scores of soldiers until they had either used up their ammunition or had been killed or captured.
The men, who were also accused of having ties to al-Shabab, the powerful al-Qaeda-linked Somali terror group, wanted to carry out the suicide attack in revenge for Australia's role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The audacious plot was uncovered last year after one of the biggest police operations in Australian history. The ten month-long operation involved 400 officers and hours of phone tapping.
More than 2000 conversations were played to the jury during the three-month trial. In the discussions the men expressed their support for Islamic fighters and said they would be willing to become a martyr to advance the cause of Islam.
The trio, and two other men who were cleared of any involvement in the plot, were arrested in a series of predawn raids in Melbourne in August 2009.
The group, which met at a mosque in Melbourne, had identified the Holsworthy army base as a "soft target" and decided to carry out the attack because they believed Islam was under attack from the West.
They were so determined to go ahead with the plan that they sought approval for the "fatwa" from Somali sheikhs on a visit to the African country, the Victorian Supreme Court heard.
The group's contempt for Australia was laid bare in the trial.
Prosecutors said Aweys had described Australians as "infidels" and said that the 2009 Black Saturday bush fires, which killed 173 people, were punishment from Allah.
In one encounter with an undercover officer, Fattall had said: "If I find way to kill the army, I swear to Allah the great I'm going to do it."
The court was shown CCTV footage of Fattall walking around Holsworthy's sprawling perimeter.
"There are about six guys ... 20 minutes will be enough for us to take out five, six, 10 ... I don't know. Until they will use up their weapons. Is that permissible?" Aweys said, according to a transcript of phone intercepts read out in court.
Tony Negus, the Australian Federal Police Commissioner, said had the plot been successful, it would have been the most serious terror attack ever carried out in Australia.
When the guilty verdict was handed down, the men did not react, but as the jurors were being led away Fattall said: "Islam is truth religion.
Thank you very much."
They now face life sentences in jail.
Australia was a staunch supporter of the war on terror and sent troops to Iraq as well as Afghanistan, where about 1,550 personnel are currently based in the country's south.
While there has never been a terror attack on Australian soil, 92 Australians were killed in the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings, while three died in blasts at luxury hotels in July 2009 in Jakarta, where extremists also carried out a deadly car-bombing on Australia's embassy in 2004.
In February, five Muslims who plotted a guns-and-explosives attack on an unknown target in protest against Australia's part in the war on terror were jailed for up to 28 years, after the country's longest extremism trial.