Nuclear reactor 'was possible terror target'

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The Independent Online

Police believe a nuclear reactor in southern Sydney was a possible target of a Sydney-based Islamic terror cell, according to details of Australia's biggest-ever counter-terror investigation released today.

Police previously stopped and questioned three recently arrested Sydney terror suspects near Australia's only nuclear reactor in December last year, according to an alarming outline of police allegations.

The document, made public by Sydney's Central Local Court today, outlined the allegations against eight terror suspects who were arrested last week and charged with planning a terrorist attack.

Under the heading "Possible targets for terrorist attack," the police document said Mazen Touma, Mohammed Elomar and Abdul Rakib Hasan were stopped in a car by New South Wales state police near the nuclear facility at Lucas Heights, in southern Sydney, in December 2004.

The men had an off-road motorbike and told police they were in the semi-rural area to ride it, the document said.

When interviewed separately, however, all three men gave different versions of the day's events, the document said.

After investigating the area, police found that the lock on one of the gates surrounding the nuclear complex "had recently been cut," the police document said.

The New South Wales state Premier Maurice Iemma sought today to reassure the public that the reactor was safe.

"Lucas Heights is a Commonwealth facility but we have extensive plans in critical infrastructure protection which form part of our counterterrorism plans," he told reporters.

The reactor is used for making radioactive material for medical uses and does not generate power. In 2000, ahead of the Sydney Olympics, detectives in New Zealand said they had uncovered a possible plot to attack the reactor, but there were never any arrests.

Touma, Elomar and Hasan were arrested along with 15 other suspects in Sydney and the southern city of Melbourne last week. Police allege they were part of an Australian-based terror network that was plotting to carry out a "catastrophic" attack.

The eight Sydney men have been charged with conspiring to manufacture explosives in preparation for a terrorist act, and the 10 Melbourne men are accused of being members of a terrorist organisation.

All 18 suspects face a maximum of life imprisonment if convicted.

The police fact sheet outlines the prosecution's case against each of the eight Sydney suspects.

It said members of the group "have sourced or attempted to source materials (primarily sulphuric acid, acetone and peroxide) for the production of peroxide-based explosives."

During a search of Elomar's home on June 27, police said they found a computer memory stick which contained instructions in Arabic for making TATP, or triacetone triperoxide, a highly unstable explosive made from commercially available chemicals such as hydrochloric and sulphuric acids, brake fluid and hydrogen peroxide.

Australian police have said TATP is similar to the bombs used by suicide bombers the July 7 attacks on London's public transport system, but British authorities have refused to confirm those reports.