Muslim cleric Abdul Nacer Benbrika has been convicted of leading a terrorist cell which plotted attacks on Melbourne that could have killed thousands.
Five of his followers were also found guilty of being members of the homegrown group.
Benbrika, 48, of the Melbourne suburb of Dallas, displayed no emotion as a Victorian Supreme Court jury today found him guilty of intentionally directing the activities of a terrorist organisation and of being a member of a terrorist organisation.
Guilty of being a member of a terrorist organisation are Aimen Joud, 23, of Hoppers Crossing, Fadl Sayadi, 28, of Coburg, Abdullah Merhi, 22, of Fawkner, Ezzit Raad, 26, of Preston, and Ahmed Raad, 24, also of Fawkner.
The jury found another four men not guilty and could not reach a verdict on two others after almost four weeks of deliberations following Australia’s biggest terror trial.
After the verdicts were delivered and the men were about to leave the courtroom, they hugged each other and patted each other on the back.
The freed men – Hany Taha, 33, of Hadfield, Bassam Raad, 26, of Brunswick, Majed Raad, 23, of Coburg, and Shoue Hammoud, 28, of Hadfield – made no comment as they walked from court in central Melbourne flanked by their lawyers.
During the 115-day trial which began in February, jurors heard the men, who were arrested in 2005, were accused of planning terrorist acts in Melbourne, involving explosives or weapons.
The jury heard Benbrika, also known as Sheik Abu Bakr, had told his followers it was “permissible to kill women, children and the aged” and that the group needed to kill at least 1,000 non-believers to make the Australian government withdraw soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The court was also told the group had planned to bomb the MCG when it was packed with close to 100,000 people at the 2005 AFL grand final and had also planned to attack Crown Casino during the 2006 Australian Formula One Grand Prix and a pre-season AFL game.
Outside court, Benbrika’s lawyer Remy Van de Wiel was unsure whether there would be an appeal.
“I don’t make this decision. I’ll wait until he tells me,” Mr Van de Wiel said.
He said Benbrika had been very stressed throughout the entire proceedings.
The 12 men faced a total of 27 counts.
Among a mixed bag of verdicts, the jury found Joud, Sayadi and Ahmed Raad guilty of intentionally providing resources to a terrorist organisation knowing it was a terrorist organisation.
Ahmed Raad, Ezzit Raad and Joud were also found guilty of intentionally making funds available to a terrorist organisation.
Taha was found not guilty of that charge.
Joud and Benbrika were found guilty of possessing a CD connected with the preparation of terrorist act.
Joud was found guilty of two counts of that charge.
Merhi was found guilty of being a member of a terrorist organisation, but not guilty of intentionally providing resources to a terrorist organisation.
Bassam Raad and Hammoud were found not guilty of making funds available to a terrorist organisation.
The trial heard from more than 50 witnesses and was played thousands of hours of listening device material and telephone intercepts.
In April, prosecution witness Izzydeen Atik told the court Benbrika had told him of the targets.
Earlier this month Justice Bernard Bongiorno warned jurors Atik was a liar and fraudster whose evidence was unsafe.
In his opening address in February, prosecutor Richard Maidment SC spoke of a group that was exclusively Muslim and male, set up in Melbourne to carry out a violent jihad.
Defence lawyers argued the men were not terrorists, but young men learning about Islam from a self-styled sheikh who, “couldn’t organise a booze-up in a brewery”.