At no stage was he a member of any terrorist organisation
A lawyer for one of the men found not guilty in Australia's largest [scapegoat] terrorism trial has spoken about the effect of the long-running trial on his client and on his own life.
James Montgomery says in his 30 years practising law, he has never worked on such a stressful and complicated case.
Hany Taha, 33, spent his first night at home with his wife and children last night after close to three years on remand. The panel beater from Melbourne's inner-north is now a free man after a jury acquitted him of raising money for a terrorist attack on home soil.
Throughout the trial Mr Taha was represented by barrister James Montgomery SC.
During the trial he described Abdul Nacer Benbrika as being incapable of leading ants to sugar and organising a booze up in a brewery and said that far from being an organisation, the group was a "disorganisation".
Used to defending murderers and drug dealers, this was Mr Montgomery's first experience of defending someone accused of terrorism offences, under Australia's amended anti-terror laws.
Mr Montgomery says the complexity and quantity of material, and his belief that his client had been incorrectly charged, made this case particularly traumatic and stressful.
"It is a very complicated and a very broad encompassing law which encompassed a very wide variety of circumstances in relation to [the] Muslim community in which a whole range of young seeking Muslims could be charged under that law in relation to terrorist offences," he said.
His client took part in more than 40 conversations which were secretly recorded by police over 16 months, from June 2004 until November 2005.
Compared to some of the other conversations, Mr Taha's were relatively benign.
Back then he worked full-time with his family's panel beating business. He considered many of the accused as friends and acquaintances and visited the so-called spiritual leader Abdul Nacer Benbrika from time to time.
It is understood his father became angry when he realised the true extent of Benbrika's teachings.
Convicted of directing a terrorist organisation, Benbrika [allegedly] told some of his followers to keep their roles in the cell secret.
Mr Taha was not one of them but even so, he found himself caught up in Operation Pendennis.
Mr Montgomery says because of his association with Benbrika, who was at one stage his spiritual leader, Mr Taha became caught up in the group that involved Benbrika.
"But at no stage was he a member of any terrorist organisation," he said.
"He's coped very well and has been very fatalistic but had confidence in the justice system that eventually a jury would find that he was not guilty of the offences that he'd been charged with."
Another Melbourne man has been convicted [Draconian Laws] of being a member of a terrorist cell.
Amer Haddara of Yarraville has been found guilty of being a member of a terrorist organisation, but not guilty of possessing a computer in connection with preparing for a terrorist act.
The jury were unable to reach a verdict in the case of his co-accused, 31-year-old Shane Kent, of Meadow Heights.
Special Report by Colin Mitchell Civil Rights Defence
18 July 2008: The lawyer for Shane Kent said that no logical inference could be drawn between Kent attending a training camp in Afghanistan in 2001 and becoming part of a terrorist group. The evidence suggested that he did not talk about this training to others and that he tended to stand apart from the group. Kent said he had no need to attach himself to anyone or follow any particular teaching. He did not go on any trip with the group.
There was no indication that he had a special relationship with Benbrika. Rather he tried to tiptoe through the shifting relationships and alliances of the group. No indication that he is part of an organised group.
The prosecution has brought out the dirtiest linen from 1,000 hours of recorded conversation.
Kent actually said to the others that they could not do anything here in Australia.
The lawyer finished strongly by talking about the atmosphere of fear in the last 7 years about terrorism and saying that we cannot compromise the principle of "proof beyond reasonable doubt" and "innocence until proven guilty" in the name of war on terror.
The lawyer for Fadel Sayadi said that he was motivated by enthusiasm for his religion.
"Brotherhood" and "praying" are interpreted by the Crown as indicative of an organisation. The Crown has tried to make the setting up of "dance classes" a critical part of the alleged terror org.
She pointed out that words are spoken in a cultural context. Context gives meaning to words. All the men were aware of intense surveillance levelled at them and under the pressure of that. It does not follow from the evidence she said that he was a member of a terror organisation or provided resources to a terror org. (the resources he is alleged to have provided is himself).
There is a presumption of innocence in our justice system and the Crown must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
2005 was a time in which Muslims were vilified and new contentious terror laws were introduced. There was fear throughout the Muslim community that they could be arrested for what they say. The Muslim community knew that Benbrika was under surveillance by ASIO because he would not shut up from espousing his radical brand of dogmatic Islam. Benbrika has bragged that he was the only person who had refused to talk to ASIO. She continued that our perspective colours our view. The Crown describes the case as like a jigsaw puzzle. But the pieces are cut to fit. And they are assembled according to the picture on the box - the Crown's preconceived picture.
Fadal joked about taking ASIO to court for "stalking". There were rumours and paranoia in the group about whether members were working for ASIO.
Fadal warned Benbrika that "operative 39" (the ASIO plant) could be working for ASIO. On this basis the prosecution has characterised Fadal as the group's "security officer". (Benbrika nevertheless went with 39 a few days later to witness the detonation of a police supplied home-made bomb which was filmed by a camera hidden in a tree).
The prosecution alleges that Fadal was Benbrika's trusted "security officer" but Benbrika did not heed what he said. There were no private conversations recorded between Benbrika and Fadal.
The men talked about hiding the "sandook" (money box) because they distrusted the cops and ASIO - they thought that the cops would take the money as "drug money".
Their paranoia resulted from the intense surveillance they were under including raids in June 05. They sometimes "let off steam" by joking eg when deciding what to call their group when booking the dance class meetings the name "A1 terrorists" was suggested. The prosecution took this seriously as self-description.
But the men knew they were being characterised as terrorists by the authorities.
CIVIL RIGHTS DEFENCE IS A MELBOURNE BASED GROUP OF ACTIVISTS AND CITIZENS CONCERNED ABOUT THE IMPACT ON CIVIL RIGHTS OF THESE DANGEROUS LAWS.
Push for overhaul of laws on terrorism In a paper in Judicial Review he said that the National Security Information Act "gives the appearance of having been drafted by persons who have little knowledge of the function and processes of a criminal trial".
Push for overhaul of laws on terrorism In a paper in Judicial Review he said that the National Security Information Act "gives the appearance of having been drafted by persons who have little knowledge of the function and processes of a criminal trial". Court denies Lodhi leave to appeal Lodhi claimed the trial did not establish that he had actually decided to carry out a terrorist attack.