One of four men charged accused of plotting a suicide attack on an Australian military base angrily denied he was a terrorist today and accused the country's troops of killing innocent people overseas.
Wissam Mahmoud Fattal, who police say is a member of an extremist cell with ties to an al-Qa'ida-linked group in Somalia, refused to stand up at Melbourne Magistrates Court, where he was charged with conspiring to plan a terrorist attack.
He did not enter a plea and faces life in prison if convicted.
As Fattal was being led from the court, he accused Australia of killing innocent people in Afghanistan and Iraq and said, "You call us terrorists - I've never killed anyone in my life."
Fattal's lawyer, Grace Morgan, said her client did not mean disrespect to the magistrate by not standing, but he would stand only for his god.
Yesterday police arrested four men - all Australian citizens aged between 22 and 26 with Somali and Lebanese origins - in raids on 19 houses in Melbourne, the culmination of a seven-month intelligence operation.
Fattal, Nayef El Sayed and two other men were charged with conspiring to plan a terrorist attack.
Police say the cell's plan was to send a team of gunmen with automatic rifles on a suicide attack against Holsworthy Barracks, an army base on the outskirts of Sydney, and launch a fight to the death with troops.
The base houses commandos trained in counter-terrorism, a Black Hawk helicopter squadron and thousands of regular troops.
The men planned to keep on shooting until they themselves were killed, acting Australian Federal Police chief Tony Negus told reporters.
"Potentially this would have been, if it had been able to be carried out, the most serious terrorist attack on Australian soil," he said.
Negus said some of the suspects had travelled to Somalia and were believed to have fought alongside Islamic insurgents there.
Police said extensive electronic surveillance and phone intercepts of the cell revealed details of the plot.
"I stalked around. It is easy to enter" the Holsworthy barracks, one of the suspects allegedly said to another in an intercepted text message, The Age newspaper reported, citing police agent David Kinton.
Police did not allege a possible motive for the attack, or when it was planned for, but said the men were linked to the Somali Islamist organisation al-Shabaab and were trying to find a senior cleric who would approve the operation so they could become martyrs.
Terrorist violence is extremely rare in Australia - the unsolved 1978 bombing near the Hilton Hotel that killed two is the best-known incident - and no attacks have been carried out in the country since the September 11, 2001, attacks in the US raised security threat levels worldwide.
But dozens of Australians have died in terrorist attacks overseas, mostly in Indonesia, including the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings.
The purported Somali-linked plot is the second major co-ordinated attack plan exposed in Australia in recent years. Seven men were imprisoned in the past year for a nascent plot to target thousands of spectators in an attack on a big sporting event in Australia.
Australia became a staunch US ally in the war on terrorism after Sept. 11 and has deployed forces to fight insurgents in Afghanistan.
Al-Shabaab has been fighting to overthrow Somalia's Western-backed transitional government. It has claimed responsibility for several high-profile bombings and shootings in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, targeting Ethiopian troops and Somali government officials.
Washington has designated al-Shabaab as a terrorist group and says it has provided safe havens to al-Qaida "elements" wanted for the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 236 people. The two groups have long been suspected of working together, but they have not announced a formal alliance.
Magistrate Peter Reardon remanded Fattal and Sayed in custody and reappear in court on October 26.