Australian Muslim faces life sentence for bombing plot against electrical supply system and defence sites
June 19, 2006
'Jihad' bomb man faces life sentence
SYDNEY man, Faheem Khalid Lodhi, has become the first person to be convicted of planning a terrorist act on Australian soil.
Lodhi, 36, a Pakistani-born Australian citizen, faces a possible life sentence after a jury accepted prosecution arguments that he had planned a bombing attack in the cause of jihad.
Lodhi's possible targets included the national electricity supply system and three Sydney defence sites, according to evidence heard during his trial in the NSW Supreme Court.
After five days of deliberation, a jury of six men and six women yesterday delivered guilty verdicts on three of four terrorism-related charges.
Lodhi was found guilty of acting in preparation for a terrorist act — an offence carrying a maximum life sentence — by seeking information on the availability of chemicals capable of making explosives.
He was also convicted of possessing a 15-page "terror manual" in his native language of Urdu, which included information on making poisons and bombs, and of buying two maps of the electricity grid, connected with preparation for a terrorist act.
However, the jury found him not guilty of a charge that he downloaded aerial photographs of three Sydney defence sites in preparation for a terrorist act. He had told the court he had the photos for his resume, having worked on the sites in the past as an architect.
Each day of the seven-week trial, Lodhi arrived at the court complex amid high security, shackled at the ankles, arms and waist and wearing an orange Guantanamo Bay-style jumpsuit reserved for "AA" classification prisoners.
He has been kept in solitary confinement since his arrest in January 2004, after which he was declared the country's highest-risk inmate.
The prosecution did not have to prove that Lodhi had planned a particular terrorist act, nor did it have to establish the time, place, or exact method — only that he deliberately sought information in preparation for such an act.
Lodhi, a devout Muslim who migrated from Pakistan in 1998, had repeatedly denied being a terrorist, or an Islamic extremist, saying that killing innocent people was not part of Islam. "This country is my country. These people are my people," he told the court.
Lodhi grew up in the industrial city of Sialkot, 125 kilometres north of Lahore, where he later graduated from the National College of Arts with a Bachelor of Architecture. He obtained the same degree from Sydney University.
His brother, Waseem Lodhi, often sat outside the court during the trial, praying quietly. He expressed shock at the verdict when contacted yesterday. "We are staying away because it is at the moment a very hard time for us," he said.
Lodhi's wife, Aysha Hamedd, a doctor, also stayed away.
Another person close to Lodhi — who said he had been advised by "Australian authorities" that he would be breaking the law if he spoke on the record, said he was "saddened" by the verdict. "As far as I'm concerned this is not justice, I feel very sorry for him," he said.
In a previous interview, he had said: "In a nutshell, I can say that he is innocent as a baby."
As evidence that Lodhi was planning the attack, the prosecution relied on several documents seized during ASIO raids in October 2003 at his home and at his city workplace. They included the handwritten "terror manual" with recipes for explosives and poisons obtained from the internet. He said he was just curious, and had paid little attention to it.
The prosecution also produced a faxed list of chemical prices Lodhi had sought, maps of the national electricity grid he had bought and aerial photos downloaded from the internet of three Sydney defence sites — Holsworthy Army Base, Victoria Barracks and HMAS Penguin.
DVDs and CDs of Islamist propaganda and terror training found at his home were played to the court as evidence he held extremist beliefs.
The prosecution also alleged that Lodhi was in close contact with accused terrorist Willy Brigitte while he was in Sydney and had used a false name to open a mobile phone account to call the Frenchman.
Lodhi said providing false details was a "bad habit" among Pakistanis and Brigitte was a friend of a friend whom he merely helped find accommodation through an associate, Lakemba butcher Abdul Rakib Hasan, who is one of nine Sydney men also charged with planning a terror attack. Hasan is yet to face trial.
Lodhi offered various explanations for the documents. He said the chemical list was for an export company he was planning and the maps a marketing tool for another planned venture to send generators to Pakistan. He also gave false personal details for the chemical and map inquiries but said it was a mistake.
He still faces five charges of making a false or misleading statement to ASIO, although the Director of Public Prosecutions might not pursue them.
A sentencing hearing is due to begin on June 29.
Lodhi's conviction comes just over two years after Perth man Jack Roche — accused of conspiring with al-Qaeda to blow up the Israeli embassy in Canberra — became the first person convicted under Australia's new anti-terror laws.
In February this year, former Melbourne taxi driver Joseph Terrence Thomas became the first person in Australia to be convicted under the Federal Government's new terrorist funding laws. A jury found Thomas intentionally received $US3500 ($A4740) from al-Qaeda.
MIM: Information on the other terrorist mentioned in the article Willy Brigitte and Australian jailed in France for targetting a nuclear reactor. His Australian born convert wife claims she will stick by him and still loves him.
Wife visits Brigitte in jail
The Australian wife of the suspected terrorist Willy Brigitte had her long-awaited reunion with her jailed husband yesterday, declaring she still loved him and would stand by him even if he was working for al-Qaeda.
"Even if he is a terrorist, I will still stand by him because that's the Muslim way," Melanie Brown said after arriving alone at Fleury-Merogis prison, on the southern outskirts of Paris, at 12.45pm (10.45 last night, Sydney time).
"I'm still in love with him. I will always love him . . . he is innocent. The relationship is as strong as ever."
Ms Brown, 27, punched the Herald's photographer several times as he tried to take photographs and had to be pulled away, yelling: "I am not public property. I am the property of God."
She then answered a series of questions, denying she was planning to leave her husband, as was reported last week after her release from detention by French anti-terrorist authorities, who had held her for questioning for three days before allowing her to see her husband.
Asked whether her husband was innocent, she replied: "Yes." The allegations against Brigitte were "all rumours", she said. "He is not a terrorist. I do not talk about my personal life."
Questioned on allegations that her husband had undergone military training in Pakistan and other evidence pointing to terrorist links, she said: "So what? You cannot show me any evidence."
Ms Brown, wearing a green scarf and a long skirt, said the French anti-terrorist authorities had also been unable to show her any proof that her husband had ties to al-Qaeda.
"[They] have showed me nothing. What they say does not mean it's the truth. They can make things up."
They had, however, "acted professionally" during her interrogation. But "a prison cell is a prison cell. They don't get too flash. I was glad to get out of there."
Ms Brown said she intended to return to Sydney soon as she had personal matters to sort out. She would maintain a long-term relationship with her husband and would try to return to Paris to keep his spirits up. Under French law, he can be detained for up to two years before being charged.
Ms Brown said if that was the case she would still stand by him.
"I cannot speculate about the future because we do not know what is going to happen. Obviously, there will be difficulties for us but it's nobody's business. It's between me and my husband."
She said Australian authorities had given her no support.
Asked whether she was going to ask him about his alleged terrorist links, she said: "It's not up to me. It's up to Allah, the exalted."
Ms Brown, a former soldier who served in East Timor, married Brigitte late last August, after only five meetings. But Brigitte was arrested by Australian police in Sydney in September. They acted on information from French authorities that he had links to al-Qaeda and was planning a terrorist attack in Australia. It has been claimed the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor may have been a target.
Brigitte was deported to France in October, and has since been held for interrogation.
Ms Brown said she had married for love and not to get him a passport. "We married for the pleasure of God. It's very different to anything you would understand because you are not Muslim."
Brigitte's mother had been expected to join Ms Brown on the jail visit, but the Australian said she was not on friendly terms with her mother-in-law.
She said she had written her husband many letters during his imprisonment. In reply, he had told her: "Stay strong, keep your faith."
In his only published reaction to the allegations against him, in a letter sent to his Sydney solicitor in January, Brigitte said: "I am not a terrorist, I am not a criminal, I never prepare a terrorist action against nuclear place in Australia.
"The media and the Australia government lie on me for justify my arrest for 'extradition' or 'expulsion'. I am innocent."
This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/02/04/1075776071800.html
Omar Baladjam as he appeared in ABC's Wildside. ABC
MIM: More on thwarted terrorist plots in Australia
Shadowy links start to emerge
Mohamed Ali Elomar is a respectable engineering consultant who runs a profitable company. His latest venture, JLAT Drafting, was flourishing and had plenty of work coming in.
He is also a devout Muslim and dedicated family man, living with his pregnant wife and five children in a comfortable home in Bankstown.
All this fell apart when police came looking for him in the early hours of Tuesday.
Just after 2.30am Elomar fled the house and was running from tree to tree in the park near Gallipoli Street, desperate to escape the police. Above, a helicopter armed with a heat-seeking camera tracked his every move: each time he stepped into the open, officers from the sky radioed to their ground forces his location.
At 3.45am, Elomar was finally caught and taken away while state and federal police searched every inch of his house. Hours later he was charged with conspiring in the preparation and planning of a terrorist act, namely, the manufacture of explosives. Police said one "avenue of inquiry" they were pursuing as a "high priority" was the possible stockpiling in his business of materials that could be used in bomb-making.
Elomar, 40, was a prime target in the biggest anti-terrorist operation undertaken in Australia. He was the lead figure in a bizarre group of alleged terrorist bombers - a former Home and Away actor, a Bosnian painter, two brothers with links to Pakistani terrorist training camps, an emotionally unstable religious extremist and a former Halal butcher who helped shelter the French terrorist suspect Willy Brigitte.
And while Elomar's arrest has shocked some of his friends, it was not a bolt from the blue. Elomar or some members of his extended family have been under police and ASIO scrutiny since at least the Sydney Olympics.
At that time, his brothers owned property southeast of Canberra, from which police received reports of gunfire. But it was not until after the September 11 attacks on the US that police increased up the pressure on some of the family. It was alleged that members an Islamic youth group were using the property as a terrorist training camp. However, after a flurry police and media activity, the Elomar brothers disappeared from public view.
Yet for the security services, the family remained high on their hit list. When ASIO raided homes in Sydney and Melbourne in June and July this year, the Elomars were targeted.
Elomar, himself, almost certainly knew he was under surveillance, which is why his role in the alleged conspiracy is a startling development. It transforms the engineering consultant into a pivotal figure in what Police Minister, Carl Scully, described as a potential, "catastrophic" terrorist attack in Australia.
Federal police have yet to give any facts in court to back these claims although this is expected to happen on Friday. Right now, there is intense speculation about the web that links the eight men accused in Sydney.
Abdul Rhakid Hasan is the second most prominent figure. The 36-year-old Bangladeshi butcher was first hauled in by ASIO for questioning in November 2003 as part of the massive investigation into Willy Brigitte.
Brigitte had mysteriously arrived in Australia in May that year from Pakistan where he had attended a terrorist training camp run by Lashkar-e-Taiba or LET.
Hasan was questioned about Brigitte four times by ASIO. According to the spy agency, he housed Brigitte when he first arrived and moved him twice, finally getting him a flat in Wiley Park. Hasan also received 42 calls from Brigitte at the butchery where he worked.
In mid-2004, police charged two people with terrorist offences arising from the Brigitte investigation. From that time, Hasan must have known he was also under intense police and ASIO surveillance.
Last month, he was also charged with making false statements to ASIO. Then, on Tuesday morning, ASIO, federal and state police came knocking and later that day he was charged.
The tentacles of the Brigitte case also reached another of the eight, Khalid Sharrouf. His sister-in-law introduced Brigitte to his future wife, Melanie Brown.
Sharrouf, 24, from Wiley Park was described by one Muslim as a troubled young man suffering physical and emotional problems. "I think it is fair to say that he could be unduly influenced by people, although I don't know if he was capable of something like this," said the source who asked not to be named.
Sharrouf was allegedly under the sway of Abdul Nacer Benbrika, the fundamentalist preacher charged in Melbourne with leading a terrorist group.
Two other men arrested in the raids allegedly trained with LET in Pakistan. Khalid Cheikho and his nephew, Mustafa Cheiko, were identified by informants as attending an LET camp. But significantly, Khalid was allegedly there before the organisation was banned
and when it was heavily backed by the Pakistani intelligence services.
Both the Cheikhos have been under surveillance by ASIO and police for at least 18 months.
The mystery figure among the eight charged is Mirsad Mulahalovic, who owns a paint company. Born in Gradacac, Bosnia, Mulahalovic established South'n Star Painting in 1999, long before any of the investigations began.
His wife and extended family arrived bewildered court on Tuesday after police raided the family home. Mrs Mulahalovic, pregnant with their first child, was stunned when she heard the news her husband had been charged with making explosives.
Omar Baladjam, the last of the eight, also owns a paint company. The 28-year-old part-time actor, who was shot during the raids, is director of Top-Coat finishes, a company he registered in 2003.
Do you have photos or information concerning the alleged terrorist conspiracy? Contact the Herald in confidence at email@example.com.