SYDNEY, Australia – Nine men accused of stockpiling bomb-making chemicals and plotting to stage an attack to avenge perceived injustices against Muslims pleaded not guilty to all charges Thursday in Australia's largest alleged terrorist conspiracy.
The men, all Muslims, are charged with conspiring between June 2004 and November 2005 to carry out an attack with bombs or other weaponry to advance a "political, religious or ideological cause." They face a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted.
Appearing before the New South Wales state Supreme Court on Thursday, some of the men wore Islamic robes, and smiled and waved at their supporters in the court.
Their lawyers have steadfastly maintained their clients' innocence, saying the chemicals found at their homes were for ordinary household or industrial uses.
At a pretrial hearing earlier this year, prosecutors claimed the nine suspects bought unrestricted chemicals that can be used in making explosives, and downloaded instructions from the Internet that included how to mix the cocktail of agents used to make the bombs used in the deadly 2005 London subway attacks.
Prosecutors allege the men 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 attack.
No planned target has been revealed, but police alleged the suspects had Australia's only nuclear reactor — a small facility used to make radioactive medical supplies — under surveillance.
The men were arrested in 2005 in a series of pre-dawn raids in Sydney and the southern city of Melbourne, where cleric Abdul Nacer Benbrika and other followers also were detained and now face separate charges of belonging to a terrorist group.
Authorities said police found transcripts of bin Laden speeches and other al-Qaida material, as well as videos of people being beheaded, in some of the suspects' homes.
The nine suspects are Mohammed Ali Elomar, Mazen Touma, Abdul Rakib Hasan, Khaled Cheikho, Moustafa Cheikho, Khaled Sharrouf, Mirsad Mulahalilovic, Omar Baladjam and Mohammed Jamal.
Judge Anthony Whealy said the trial should start on Feb. 25 next year.