Terror Suspects May Have Targeted Sydney Nuclear Reactor
SYDNEY, Australia – Members of an alleged Islamic terror cell in Sydney stockpiled bomb-making materials, trained at Outback hunting camps and sized up Australia's only nuclear reactor as a possible target, a police report alleged Monday.
In a 20-page glimpse into Australia's biggest terror investigation, police said the eight suspects arrested last week had the know-how and were assembling chemicals, detonators, digital timers and batteries to carry out a major bomb attack.
A nuclear reactor used to make radioactive medical supplies on the edge of Sydney, Australia's biggest city, was listed as a possible target, according to the report.
The eight men have been charged with conspiring to make explosives for use in a terrorist act. Ten other men, including a radical Muslim cleric, were arrested in the city of Melbourne on charges of being members of a terror group. All 18 could face life imprisonment if convicted.
Police describe the cleric, Algerian-born Abdul Nacer Benbrika, also known as Abu Bakr, as the spiritual leader of both cells. The report says he told one of the Sydney men in custody: "If we want to die for jihad then we have to have maximum damage, maximum damage. Damage their buildings, everything, damage their lives."
Australia has never been hit by a serious terror attack, but its citizens have been targeted elsewhere. Islamic militants have been angered by the government's staunch support for the U.S.-led war in Iraq and for sending troops there and to Afghanistan.
The police report paints a picture of extremist Sunni Muslims accumulating a potentially lethal cocktail of products that have become the tools of terror bombers.
During a search of suspect Mohammed Elomar's home on June 27, 2005, police said, they found a computer memory stick containing instructions in Arabic for making TATP, or triacetone triperoxide — an unstable explosive made from commercially available chemicals such as hydrochloric and sulfuric acids, brake fluid and hydrogen peroxide.
Australian police have said TATP is similar to the explosives used by suicide bombers in the July 7 attacks that killed 56 people in London. British authorities have refused to confirm that.
Police said they found two dozen bottles of hydrogen peroxide solution stashed on public land behind the home of one detainee, Khaled Sharrouf. In October, Sharrouf also was arrested for trying to steal six digital timers and approximately 132 batteries from a hardware store, police said.
Another alleged cell member, Abdul Rakib Hasan, tried to buy laboratory equipment and a 26.4-gallon cooler to be used for storing chemicals, the report said.
Two other men, whose identities were not released, visited an auto parts wholesaler seeking to buy 53 gallons of brake fluid and 80 gallons of sulfuric acid, the report said.
"They were informed by the manager that the combination of sulfuric acid and brake fluid was a highly volatile mix" and asked for their business details, the report said. The men said they said they would come back the next day but never returned, it said.
The report also outlined steps taken by the cell to case potential targets and train for jihad, or holy war.
It said three of the men in custody — Elomar, Mazen Touma and Abdul Rakib Hasan — were stopped in a car and questioned by New South Wales state police near the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor last December. The men had an off-road motorcycle and told police they were in the area to ride it, the document said.
After investigating the area, police later found the lock to one of the gates surrounding the nuclear complex "had recently been cut," the report said.
The Lucas Heights facility makes radioactive material used in medical procedures and does not generate electricity. It is surrounded by chain-link fences and patrolled by security guards, but critics contend security is lax.
In December 2001, 46 Greenpeace activists broke into the facility carrying banners and dressed as nuclear waste barrels. Some climbed over the fence and others walked through the front gates, easily passing a handful of security guards.
Aldo Borgu, a security analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said it was impossible to know from the information released by police whether the suspects had the expertise to turn chemicals into an explosive powerful enough to cause enough damage to the facility to release radioactivity into the air.
The report said several members of the Sydney cell took hunting and camping trips last March and April near the Outback town of Bourke, 400 miles northwest of Sydney.
"Police allege that these camping and training trips are part of the jihad training being undertaken by this group. The trips are consistent with the usual modus operandi of terrorists prior to attacks," the report said.