A Sydney dad who claimed he was trying to prevent a terrorist attack rather than start one is now facing life in prison after a jury found him guilty of conspiring to bring down a flight with 400 people on it.
Khaled Khayat, 51, was yesterday found guilty in the NSW Supreme Court of plotting to blow up an Etihad plane on July 15, 2017, with a bomb hidden in a meat grinder.
The plot was aborted just hours before the flight — holding 400 passengers and crew — was due to take off because the bag was overweight.
The flight landed without incident, and Khayat and his brother Mahmoud were arrested two weeks later.
Khaled, a 51-year-old Lakemba local, originally from Lebanon, had pleaded not guilty to conspiring — between mid-January and late-July 2017 — to prepare or plan a terrorist act.
The jury deliberated for five days over Mahmoud's alleged crimes but were today unable to reach a verdict. They were discharged earlier today.
Combing through Khaled's phone immediately after his arrest in July 2017, police found a digital prayer that had chilling similarities to his Etihad bomb plot.
The prayer formed a key part of the prosecution's digital evidence summary.
"Oh god defend us and keep their evil away from us," Khaled's defence barrister Richard Pontello recited to the court.
"Bring down their aeroplanes and drown their battleships."
In his closing submissions last week, Mr Pontello told the jury to be "careful attaching any significance to evidence in the digital summary".
"I dare submit that if you and your loved ones were being bombed by any air force, you'd want them down to," he said.
"It's not extremist to not want to be bombed."
Mr Pontello also urged the jury to be "careful jumping to conclusions" relating to the IS material found on Khaled's devices.
"If you download a video about the Third Reich, are you a neo-nazi? Khaled had an obvious … understandable interest in Syria because he had so many family members over there caught up," he said.
Earlier in the trial, the court heard Khaled had been motivated to support militant groups fighting the Syrian regime and to promote Islamic State.
The court previously heard bombings in Syria had "vibrated all the way through" the accused brothers in Australia.
In his three-day interview with police, Khaled admitted he had been influenced by "TV footage he had seen of bombings in Syria", prosecutor Lincoln Crowley QC told the court.
"It's not good what's happening. It's not right that they (Russia) are killing our kids and people," Mr Crowley said, reading out Khaled's interview.
"Etihad and Emirates are supporting the money to kill kids over there … I swear on the Koran I would never do it here."
In his closing submission last week, Mr Pontello told the court the 51-year-old was "not an extremist of any kind".
"He pays his taxes … he is a good part of the community," he said.
Khaled's daughter, who watched her father's month-long trial with her brother and mum, teared up when Mr Pontello read through her character reference, which described the 51-year-old as "the best dad ever".
In his police interview in 2017, Khaled spoke of walking into the airport with the concealed bomb and claimed he aborted the plan after seeing kids.
He said when he saw children at the airport he thought, "Don't do it, don't be stupid, don't do it" and removed the bomb from the baggage.
Mr Pontello told the jury contrary to what his client told police, he never took the bomb to the airport and actually was trying to prevent a terrorist attack.
"The defence case is the polar opposite, " he said.
"He agreed to do those acts in order to prevent a terrorist act from ever occurring, which ultimately he did. The bomb never made it onto the plane. As far as he was concerned, it was never going to make it onto the plane."
Khaled gave evidence, saying he put the bomb in a yoghurt container and buried it in a relative's backyard where it remained for weeks.
Police claimed that communications with IS began in April 2017, with the group sending the men components and propellants through international cargo from Turkey.
Prosecutor Lincoln Crowley QC alleged the bomb was in a meat grinder to be put into the luggage of another brother, Amer Khayat, who was flying out of Sydney on an Etihad flight.
Mr Crowley said when Khaled was arrested police found a piece of paper in his wallet with Arabic words, numbers and symbols written on it.
He said the paper was examined by a forensic chemist and Arabic interpreters who determined that one side of the paper included the correct chemical equation for poisonous gas, while the other side had further details relating to the gas.
Khaled is now facing life in prison after the jury found him guilty. He is to be sentenced on July 26.