Sydney: A Muslim cleric who led an Australian terror cell which plotted to kill thousands on Monday lost an appeal against his jail term, but a court found that some sentences given to his group were excessive.
Algerian-born Abdul Nacer Benbrika was in February 2009 sentenced to 15 years in jail for leading an organisation which was committed to violent jihad and had discussed bomb and firearm attacks.
Victoria`s Court of Appeal ruled that his main sentence was appropriate but that a seven-year term Benbrika was serving concurrently for being a member of the group was "manifestly excessive" given its relatively low seriousness.
In its judgement, the court said that a terrorist organisation may include "anything from a ragtag collection of malcontents whose commitment to terror never advances further than a conception" to groups such as al Qaeda which have a "proven record of committing the worst terrorist acts imaginable”.
It said that Benbrika`s group was "towards the lower end of the scale of seriousness. Therefore, the sentence to be imposed on Benbrika for being a member of it should accord to that relativity."
The court said that Benbrika should have been given a five year sentence for his membership, also reducing the term given to six of his followers convicted of the same charge by two years.
It ordered a retrial for Benbrika on a charge of possessing a CD connected with preparation for a terrorist act because the jury had been misdirected.
The appeals court said that Benbrika`s 15-year sentence for leading the organisation was appropriate given his determination to direct terror attacks either in Australia or overseas.
It noted the irony of Benbrika`s commitment to violent jihad given that "the evidence suggests that he was a procrastinator" and his group was shut down before it could commit a terror act.
Benbrika and the other men were arrested in November 2005 after the government strengthened laws to detain those in the early stages of planning terror acts following the London transport bombings in July that year.