Men Charged With Terrorism Offenses in Australia Ordered to Stand Trial

Eleven Muslim men accused of being members of a terrorist cell that was plotting a major attack in Australia were ordered on Friday to stand trial under the country's tough security laws.

Magistrate Paul Smith ruled at a court hearing in the southern city of Melbourne that he was satisfied prosecutors had enough evidence to justify sending the 11 men to trial. A decision would be made later on two other men charged with the group, the magistrate said.

The 11 suspects pleaded innocent at the hearing to charges that they were members of a terrorist organization. Some faces additional charges of funding a terrorist organization. They pleaded innocent to those charges.

Smith ordered the men to remain in custody.

The men were among 18 suspects arrested in November in coordinated pre-dawn raids in Melbourne and Sydney in an two-year operation police said headed off a catastrophic terror attack in Australia, possibly targeting a nuclear reactor in southern Sydney.

Authorities have released only few details of the alleged attack plot, but have alleged some of the suspects trained in Afghanistan and Pakistan and met Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden.

Algerian-born Abdul Nacer Benbrika, 46, the alleged spiritual leader of the group, was among those committed on Friday to stand trial. The others were Fadal Sayadi, 26, Majed Raad, 22, Amer Haddara, 26, Ahmed Raad, 23, Abdullah Merhi, 21, Hany Taha, 31, Shoue Hammoud, 26, Izzydeen Atik, 26, Bassam Raad, 24, and Ezzit Raad, 24.

Smith said he would hear further submissions on the two other suspects, Shane Kent, 29, and Aimen Joud, 21, on Sept. 18.

"I am satisfied in relation to all defendants except Mr. Joud and Mr. Kent that there is sufficient evidence upon which a jury could convict," Smith said.

Under Australian law, prosecutors present their evidence to a magistrate who decides if the case is strong enough to be sent to trial in a higher court, usually before a jury.

Prosecutor Mark Dean told the court during the hearing that the group was inspired and influenced strongly by al-Qaida and the teachings of bin Laden.

The men sat calmly behind glass barriers in the dock as the decision to send them to trial was announced, Australian Associated Press reported.

Seven of the 11 refused to stand when directed to do so by Smith when he read out the charges against them and asked for their pleas.