16 are charged in Australian terror plot


JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Sixteen men arrested during sweeping raids in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, were charged yesterday with belonging to a terrorist organization and plotting terrorist attacks.

The men had chemicals similar to those used in the London bombings this summer, officials said, but no evidence has emerged linking the suspects to any outside group, such as al-Qaida or Jemaah Islamiyah.

Officials said they were working on the theory that the suspects represented another example of a homegrown terrorist network inspired perhaps by Osama bin Laden but not directed from the outside. The men downloaded bomb-making instructions from the Internet, a prosecutor told a court in Melbourne.

The raids early yesterday were carried out by more than 400 intelligence and police officers, the largest terrorism-related operation in the country's history.

The raids "probably disrupted the most serious preparation for a terrorist attack that we have seen in Australia," said Steve Bracks, the premier of the state of Victoria, which includes Melbourne.

In Sydney, one suspect was shot by police and taken to a hospital. He was not immediately charged. A police officer was slightly wounded.

All of the suspects appeared, by their names and other descriptions provided by police, to be from the Middle East, but several were also Australian citizens.

One of the men arrested in Melbourne was a cleric, Abdul Nacer Benbrika, who has praised bin Laden as a "great man" and said that Muslims were justified in killing Iraq-based foreign soldiers, including Australians.

Benbrika directed a terrorist organization in Melbourne that included eight others of those arrested, prosecutor Richard Maidment told a Melbourne court.

Maidment told the court that the men had been planning terrorist acts for more than a year.

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