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Nine Muslim men accused of Australia's largest terrorist conspiracy downloaded bomb-making instructions off the Internet and stockpiled chemicals to make lethal explosives because they believed Islam was under attack, according to a state prosecutor.
The nine were devotees of a radical Muslim cleric sympathetic to Osama bin Laden, and struck a pact to launch a terrorist attack because they felt their religion was under threat and needed to be defended at any cost, a pre-trial hearing heard Tuesday.
They were arrested in a series of 2005 raids in Sydney and the southern city of Melbourne, where cleric Abdul Nacer Benbrika and other followers were also detained and now face separate charges of belonging to a terrorist group.
In Penrith Local Court in western Sydney, the nine men were formally indicted Tuesday on one charge each of conspiring between June 2004 and November 2005 to carry out a terrorist act.
None of the suspects, who face a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted, entered a plea. The purpose of the hearing, expected to last weeks, was to allow Magistrate Michael Price to decide whether enough evidence exists to send the men to a jury trial.
Prosecutor Wendy Abraham said the suspects had obtained large amounts of industrial chemicals that could be used in bomb-making, including hydrochloric and citric acids, glycerin, acetone and brake fluid.
They also had detonators and laboratory equipment such as beakers and rubber tubing to mix and store chemicals, and documents that were "extremist in nature," Abraham said.
"They believed Islam was under attack," Abraham told the court. "Violence was the primary tool of their jihad."
It wasn't possible to get comment from the mens' defense lawyers Tuesday. Their attorneys have said previously the men are innocent of the charges.
During a June 2005 raid on the house of one suspect, Mohammed Ali Elomar, authorities found a computer memory stick containing a 60-page document in Arabic that included instructions on how to make bombs and how to hide explosives near restaurants and government buildings, Abraham said.
The instructions included how to make TATP, the explosive used in the deadly 2005 London subway bombings that can be made from bleach, drain cleaner and acetone paint thinner, she said.
At the homes of two other suspects, Khaled Cheikho and Mirsad Mulahalilovic, authorities found magazines and press releases from al-Qaida, videos of people being beheaded and transcripts of speeches by bin Laden, Abraham said.
The prosecution alleges the nine men were in routine contact with each other about the alleged plot, using mobile phones registered with fake names to communicate by encoded text messages.
Two of the suspects, Abdul Rakib Hasan and Khaled Sharrouf, allegedly used a mobile phone to arrange a meeting with Benbrika, a prominent Muslim cleric known for praising bin Laden as a "great man."
During the meeting in Melbourne, Benbrika allegedly told the men they should be prepared to die.
"Everyone has to prepare to die or be jailed, but we have to be careful," Abraham quoted him as saying. "If we want to die for jihad, we have to do maximum damage, maximum damage."
Benbrika, also known as Abu Bakr, pleaded not guilty in December to directing the group's activities and possessing a CD related to planning a terrorist act.
Mazen Touma, Omar Baladjam, Mustafa Cheikho and Mohammed Jamal are the other suspects.
The Australian Security Intelligence Organization, the national spy agency, has requested that parts of the proceedings be closed to the public for national security reasons.
A police report released at the time of the arrests listed Australia's only nuclear reactor, the Lucas Heights facility near Sydney used to make radioactive medical supplies, as a possible target. The reactor wasn't mentioned in Tuesday's hearing.