The Sydney arm of an alleged Islamic terror network had stockpiled enough chemicals to make at least 15 large bombs, a newspaper reported today, as police sifted through evidence seized in a series of pre-dawn raids earlier this week.
The eight suspects arrested on Tuesday in Sydney and charged with conspiracy to manufacture explosives in preparation for a terrorist attack had registered a series of company names to justify large purchases of industrial chemicals, The Sydney Morning Herald reported, citing unidentified investigators.
Two suspects, part-time actor Omar Baladjam, 28, and Bosnian-born Mirsad Mulahalilovic, 29, had painting businesses that could be used as a possible cover for buying the chemicals, the newspaper reported.
Acetone – often used as a solvent and paint thinner – is a key ingredient in a deadly cocktail of chemicals dubbed ”Mother of Satan” because so many people have died while preparing the deadly bombs, the Sydney Morning Herald said. It did not specify whether the ingredient had been found among the evidence, however.
Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty cast doubt on the report, but Attorney-General Philip Ruddock confirmed bomb ingredients were seized in the raids.
“My understanding of the evidence is that some of the product had been actually purchased, others had been ordered,” he told ABC radio. “The intelligence assessment is that this was an enterprise designed to manufacture a very large quantity of explosives.”
The raids led to the postponement today of the trial of former Melbourne cab driver Joseph Thomas on charges of sending funds to al-Qaida and receiving money from the terror group.
Thomas, who has pleaded innocent to receiving al-Qaida money and has not entered pleas to other charges, was due to stand trial next Monday, but Supreme Court Judge Philip Cummins said publicity about this week’s terror arrests in Melbourne and Sydney could prejudice a jury – even though Thomas’ case is unrelated.
Meanwhile, federal lawmakers were expected to begin debating Prime Minister John Howard’s proposed raft of tough new anti-terrorism laws later today, and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the government would consider introducing laws to strip convicted terrorists of their Australian citizenship.
The anti-terror legislation, which has met with opposition from legal and civil rights groups, would enable authorities to hold terror suspects without charge for two weeks and monitor them with electronic tracking devices for up to a year.
The proposed laws also toughen jail terms for inciting race hatred or violence against the community, and have been criticised as an attack on free speech.