October 16, 2009 / 7:49 AM / 10 years ago

Five men found guilty in Australia of terror plot

(Updates with details, changes dateline)

SYDNEY, Oct 16 (Reuters) - An Australian court on Friday found five men guilty of conspiring to commit a terror attack, by stockpiling weapons and chemicals to make bombs, in retaliation at Australia’s involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

During a 10-month trial, the prosecutor told the New South Wales state Supreme Court that the five Islamic jihadists obtained "step-by-step instructions on how to make bombs capable of causing large-scale death and destruction".

The men, aged between 25 and 44, wanted "violent jihad which involved the application of extreme force and violence, including the killing of those who did not share the fundamentalist ... extremist, beliefs", prosecutor Richard Maidment told the trial.

The men, who face maximum life sentences, will return to New South Wales Supreme Court on Dec. 14 for sentencing.

The men, who cannot be named as they face further charges, were arrested in Sydney in 2005 as part of Australia’s largest ever terror raids. Police said they found 28,000 rounds of ammunition during the raids.

The prosecution never told the court what was the target for the planned terror attack, said local media reports.

Australia, a close U. S. ally, was among the first countries to commit troops to U.S.-led campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Australia has never suffered a major peacetime attack on home soil, although 95 Australians have been killed in militant bombings in neighbouring Indonesia since 2001.

The jury heard from 300 witnesses, examined 3,000 exhibits, watched 30 days of surveillance tapes and listened to 18 hours of phone intercepts. The prosecutor said three men had gone on paramilitary-style camps in far western NSW to prepare for an attack. The defence claimed the men were just hunting, camping and having fun.

Over 16 months, the men used false names to acquire mobile phones and spoke in code, aware they were under surveillance.

They were also equipped with night-vision cameras and had "large quantities of literature which supported indiscriminate killing, mass murder and martyrdom".

Each of the men possessed extremist material on their home computers, on topics including the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and ritual beheadings.

The literature glorified the actions of al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and instructed in the manufacture of pipe bombs using common ingredients such as citric acid and hair bleach, prosecutor Maidment told the trial.

Judge Anthony Whealy told jurors at the start of the trial to put aside any prejudices and noted that Islam was not on trial.

"Special demands have been placed on your concentration. It has been my observation that you have acted with the utmost integrity and diligence," Whealy told the jury on Friday. (Reporting by Michael Perry; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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