17 terror suspects arrested in Australia

Police arrested 17 terror suspects in Australia's two biggest cities Tuesday in raids they said foiled a plot to carry out a catastrophic terror attack. A radical Muslim cleric was charged with masterminding the plot.

One suspect was in critical condition after being shot in the neck during a gunfight with police, said police Commissioner Graeme Morgan. An officer was hit, receiving a minor graze to the hand.

A bomb squad robot examined a backpack the suspect was wearing when he was shot and found a hand gun.

"I'm satisfied that we have disrupted what I would regard as the final stages of a large-scale terrorist attack ... here in Australia," New South Wales Police Commissioner Ken Moroney told.

Prime Minister John Howard, who last week warned of a possible imminent terror attack in Australia, thanked security forces in a nationally televised news conference.

"This country has never been immune from a possible terrorist attack," he said. "That remains the situation today and it will be the situation tomorrow."

Abu Bakr, a leading Algerian-Australian cleric who has said that while the killing of innocents is wrong, he would be violating his faith if he warned his students against joining the jihad, or holy war, in Iraq, was among nine men who appeared Tuesday morning in Melbourne Magistrates Court charged with being members of a terror group.

"The members of the Sydney group have been gathering chemicals of a kind that were used in the London Underground bombings," Prosecutor Richard Maidment said, adding that Abu Bakr was the group's ringleader.

"Each of the members of the group are committed to the cause of violent jihad," he added, saying they underwent military-style training at a rural camp northeast of Melbourne.

Seven of the suspects, including Abu Bakr, were ordered detained until a court appearance on Jan. 31. Two others were to hear Wednesday whether their application to be released on bail was granted.

Seven men arrested in Sydney were held in cells at a tightly guarded downtown court during a five-minute hearing Tuesday afternoon at which they were ordered held until another hearing on Friday on charges of preparing a terror act by manufacturing explosives.

The eighth suspect, the man shot by police, was under guard in hospital and was not immediately charged.

More than 500 police backed up by helicopters hovering overhead were involved in raids across Sydney and Melbourne, arresting eight men in Sydney and nine in Melbourne and seizing chemicals, weapons, computers and backpacks.

Australia has never been hit by a major terror attack, but its citizens have repeatedly been targeted overseas, particularly in neighboring Indonesia, where dozens of Australians have been killed in bomb blasts since 2002, the AP reports.


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