Arrested terror plotter cleric well known to Australian security forces for years said "Jihad is part of my religion"
November 8, 2005
Tuesday, November 8, 2005 · Last updated 1:29 a.m. PT
Alleged terror chief well known for views
By ROD MCGUIRK
CANBERRA, Australia -- The accused ringleader of a suspected Australian terror cell is well known for his radical Islamic views, earning headlines for declaring on national television that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is "a great man."
Abdul Nacer Benbrika, an Algerian-Australian cleric also known as Abu Bakr, was one of nine terror suspects arrested in the southern city of Melbourne in a series of raids early Tuesday that also netted eight suspects in Sydney.
Prosecutors told a Melbourne court Tuesday that Abu Bakr was the alleged leader of a group that planned to carry out a jihad or holy war targeting Australian citizens.
Abu Bakr had been a regular at a mosque in the Melbourne neighborhood of Brunswick run by Sheik Mohammed Omran and was well known to security agencies for his radical views.
Omran, who was not among those arrested Tuesday, also has praised bin Laden and denied he was behind the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.
In the aftermath of the July 7 London bombings, Omran's widely publicized views generated extensive political debate about how Australia can safeguard itself from homegrown terrorists inspired by radical preachers.
The Australian newspaper reported last week that Abu Bakr had deserted Omran's prayer group because he considered it too moderate.
Abu Bakr's Melbourne home was raided in June by police and security agents in a series of counterterrorism searches conducted in Sydney and Melbourne. Those raids resulted in no arrests.
Melbourne's Sunday Herald newspaper reported this week that Abu Bakr's followers had been traveling abroad to train with al-Qaida since at least 2001.
Abu Bakr, whose passport was canceled months ago on security grounds, told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television in May that although he is against the killing of innocents, he could not discourage his students from traveling to Afghanistan or Pakistan to train in terrorist camps.
"Jihad is part of my religion," Abu Bakr said. "What you have to understand is that anyone who fights on behalf of Allah, when he dies, the first drop of blood that comes out, all of his sins will be forgiven."
Prime Minister John Howard has denounced Abu Bakr's views as having no place in Australia's multicultural society.
Mainstream Australian Muslims are quick to distance themselves from Abu Bakr's radical teachings.
"Abu Bakr has been advocating intolerance," said Ameer Ali, president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils.
"We saw in the media that he said my religion does not tolerate any other religion ... that's un-Islamic," he added.