Supergrass 'tipped off spies'

By Greg Ansley

CANBERRA - Further details of the alleged plot by 18 Muslim extremists to launch a jihad against Australia are expected to be revealed today, amid new claims that a turncoat "supergrass" has been feeding information to counter-terrorism agents.

The alleged plot to bomb key targets in Sydney and Melbourne was foiled last week by raids in the two cities that found enough chemicals to make 15 large bombs and included evidence of discussions of suicide bombings.

Police last week tried to stem the flood of revelations about the alleged plot that followed the raids, seeking an order to suppress the statement of facts against eight men remanded without bail in Sydney.

But the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions has now withdrawn its action in the Supreme Court, allowing the disclosure of the statement.

In Melbourne Izzydeen Atik, arrested in Sydney after the raids and extradited to Melbourne on Friday, will appear in court today on terror-related charges, joining nine others already remanded in custody until January.

Evidence presented to courts so far alleges the men were part of a terrorist group that adhered to Osama bin Laden's teachings of violent jihad (holy war) against the West, engaging in military-style training, downloading bomb-making information and jihadist propaganda from the internet, buying "massive" amounts of bomb-making chemicals and operating a car-stealing racket to fund its activities.

Counter-terror police and the domestic spy agency Asio are known to have been tracking Islamic radicals for years and to have run a specific operation against the alleged terror group for the past 18 months.

Publicly disclosed potential targets have included major city railway stations, important commercial and Government buildings, and national icons such as Sydney's Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

Yesterday Melbourne's Sunday Herald Sun said information from an Islamic "supergrass" who had met bin Laden had been crucial in the arrests of the alleged terrorists.

The newspaper said the informant, now in hiding and in fear of his life, was a former follower of radical Melbourne cleric Abdul Nacer Benbrika, also known as Abu Bakir, the alleged leader of the terror group, and an associate of another alleged member of the Melbourne cell, Gregory Kent.

The informant had trained with al Qaeda in Pakistan in 2001, where bin Laden had asked him how Muslims were faring in Australia, before returning and co-operating with counter-terrorism officials, the Sunday Herald Sun said.

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock refused to confirm or deny the report, but told Channel Nine that protection was available for witnesses prepared to give evidence.

"Aside from the issue of whether or not there has been an individual providing information to authorities, we do have witness protection schemes in Australia in which people of importance to the prosecution of criminal offences are given witness protection," he said.

But it is known that investigators have been given important information from both within and outside the Muslim community, and by a major and often covert surveillance operation against many Islamic militants and their associates.

A flow of information has also been received on a national telephone hotline - similar to anonymous police tip-off schemes - and from people suspicious of unusual activities or purchases, including large amounts of chemicals. One of the key triggers for the investigation came from an alert Melbourne lawyer, who saw a man filming the Australian Stock Exchange in Melbourne and told police.

Quoting prosecutor Richard Maidment, the Age said another man had reported a similar incident at the Flinders St railway station.

The car reported in both incidents was owned by the father-in-law of a man Asio was watching as a member of an extremist Islamist group that included zealous young followers of Benbrika, many Australian-born.

Benbrika, according to a Weekend Australian investigation, had turned to extremism after hearing a sermon in 1994 by Abu Qatada, the spiritual leader of al-Qaeda in Europe, who had been invited to Australia by another Melbourne radical cleric and former Benbrika mentor, Sheik Mohammed Omran.

Soon after the sermon, which reportedly also radicalised many of his colleagues, Benbrika split from moderate Islam and began taking a hard-line approach.

"[Qatada's] impact was enormous, and that is where it all began," a senior Muslim source told the paper.

Informing on his own

'Supergrass' uses an alias.

Helped the Australian Federal Police's Operation Pandanus.

Was crucial to the arrests of 18 alleged terrorists last week.

Once a follower of Abu Bakir and an associate of Shane Gregory Kent, both arrested in Melbourne on terrorist charges.

Said to have trained in Afghanistan in 2001 at an al Qaeda camp.

Met terror mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock has refused to confirm or deny the claims.

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