An Australian Jihadist leader who planned to blow up the Crown Casino Melbourne will remain in prison for at least four more weeks as the country’s government appeals to its highest court to keep him locked up.
In 2008, Abdul Nacer Benbrika, 60, was handed a custodial sentence of 15 years with a non-parole period of 12 years. The sentence was for intentionally being the leader of a terrorist organization and for planning attacks on targets within Australia. He was due to be released on November 5.
But the Home Affairs Department says Benbrika is still dangerous. On Monday, the Supreme Court granted a request for a trial for a continued detention order application, which will be held at the end of next month.
This could keep Benbrika behind bars for three more years, a period which could be then be extended further at the end of the term if the court deems him to be an “unacceptable risk.”
Algerian-born Benbrika was among 17 people arrested in Sydney and Melbourne in November 2005 following a 16-month surveillance operation by security forces.
Police raids at the homes of the suspects turned up bomb-making information and video tapes showing beheadings. The tapes also contained messages from Osama Bin Laden. Benbrika is alleged to have been the spiritual leader of the group.
According to wiretaps heard at trial, the terrorist cell initially planned to target the Australian Football League grand final. But that plan was disrupted by early police raids. Instead, the group pivoted to the Crown, which it wanted to bomb on the weekend of the Australian Formula One Grand Prix.
The prosecution also claimed the cell discussed assassinating Australia’s then Prime Minister John Howard.
Laws permitting post-sentence detention were introduced in Australia in 2017 for those convicted of terrorist offenses. But there have been no successful applications for continuing detention orders thus far. If Benbrika’s prison spell is successfully extended, it would be a first for Australia.
For years, authorities have been concerned about Benbrika’s influence from inside prison on those who share his ideology.
According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), he has completed deradicalization education programs in prison. But in 2014, he was moved to a new prison in a different part of the country over concerns he was spreading his jihadist teachings to the outside world through his visitors.
In 2005, three months before his arrest, he praised Osama Bin Laden as a “great man” in an interview with ABC, adding that Islam “did not tolerate other religions.”
“Anyone who fights for the sake of Allah — when he dies, the first drop of blood that comes from him — all his sins will be forgiven,” he claimed.