Australian convert pleads guilty to terror plot aimed at killing thousands
July 28, 2009
Shane Kent pleads guilty on eve of terror trial but al-Qa'ida charge dropped
Gary Hughes July 28, 2009
The charge of preparing a document, which related to a propaganda video Mr Kent helped prepare for al-Qa'ida, was also downgraded to acting "recklessly", which carries a 10-year maximum sentence rather than 15 years. He faces a 10-year maximum sentence on the charge of intentionally belonging to a terrorist organisation. A Supreme Court jury last year failed to reach a verdict on Mr Kent when he faced trial with 11 other alleged members of the Melbourne Muslim terrorist group.
That trial was told the group's plans to launch an attack on the 2005 AFL Grand Final at the MCG or on Crown Casino during the Melbourne Grand Prix were disrupted by ASIO raids. A jury was due to be empanelled this afternoon for Mr Kent's retrial on the original charge of belonging to the group and two new charges. Justice David Byrne refused to continue Mr Kent's bail, which was granted in October, despite being told he was under psychiatric care for severe depression and anxiety.
Defence barrister John Champion told the short hearing that Mr Kent's wife, who was in court, was three months' pregnant. A pre-sentence hearing will be held on August 17 for Mr Kent, who spent almost three years in prison in maximum security while awaiting his original trial.
Shane Kent, 33, pleaded guilty to being a member of a group led by radical Islamic cleric Abdul Nacer Benbrika, who told his followers they could kill women and children in the pursuit of holy war.
Kent also admitted involvement in the cell's plans for a bomb attack on sports events including the Australian Football League's (AFL) 2005 Grand Final, which attracted some 92,000 fans and a TV audience of millions.
The former forklift truck driver was about to face a retrial on the charges, which he previously denied, after a Supreme Court jury last September failed to reach a verdict.
Kent, wearing a grey shirt and black jacket, looked down as the charges were read and replied "guilty" to each.
Six members of the cell, as well as Benbrika, were last year found guilty on related charges in Australia's largest ever terrorism trial.
Benbrika was jailed for 15 years and the six followers received at least seven-and-a-half years each. Another man, Izzydeen Atik, pleaded guilty in August 2007 and was jailed for five-and-a-half years.
The men referred to themselves as mujahedeen, or holy warriors, and considered violent jihad an integral part of their religious obligations, judge Bernard Bongiorno said when sentencing Benbrika and the other men in February.
Benbrika was so committed to violent jihad, Bongiorno said, that he had talked about continuing the group's activities behind bars if its members were jailed.
They were arrested in November 2005 after Australia strengthened laws to detain those in the early stages of planning terror acts, following the London transport bombings in July that year.
Jurors were told the group originally planned to attack the 2005 AFL Grand Final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, but were foiled by a series of police and secret service raids.
They then decided to hit either the Melbourne stadium during AFL pre-season, or the sports-mad city's Crown casino during 2006 Grand Prix week, the jury was told.
Material seized from the group included bomb-making instructions and video tapes with messages from Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
While the cell had not made advanced plans for a specific target or carried out an attack, Bongiorno said they had shown no remorse, and did not appear to have renounced their beliefs.
Kent was charged with intentionally being a member of a terrorist organisation and to making a document connected with the preparation of a terrorist act.
According to evidence at his first trial, Kent, who converted to Islam at 19, undertook two months of paramilitary training in the use of firearms and explosives in an undisclosed country.
His lawyers told the court Tuesday he was receiving psychiatric treatment for acute depression and anxiety. He will face a sentencing hearing on August 17.