SYDNEY, Australia (Nov. 19)
An Australian man has been arrested for allegedly planning to blow up the Israeli Embassy in Canberra and the Israeli Consulate in Sydney.
Jack Roche, who holds British and Australian citizenship, reportedly converted to Islam 10 years ago. He has claimed to be a follower of a militant Islamic leader in Indonesia.
On Tuesday, Roche appeared in a court in the Western Australian city of Perth to hear the charges against him. His lawyer told The Associated Press that he intends to plead innocent.
Roche is slated to make another court appearance next week, when he is expected to apply for bail — a move the prosecution will oppose.
His arrest Monday followed a federal police crackdown launched after terrorists blew up a night club on Oct. 12 in Bali, Indonesia. The explosion killed 180 people, most of them Australians.
The attack is believed to be the work of Jemaah Islamiah, a group headed by a 64-year-old Muslim cleric, Abu Bakar Bashir, that has links to Al-Qaida.
Following the Bali attack, officials with the Australian Security Intelligence Organization raided homes across Australia to question people suspected of having links to Jemaah Islamiah.
Roche, 49, is believed to have met Bashir and highly placed Al-Qaida operatives during visits to Southeast Asia.
The Australian Federal Police who arrested Roche made it clear, however, that they do not believe Roche is connected to the Bali attack.
On Tuesday, prosecutors told the Perth court that, between February and May 2000, Roche had conspired during meetings in Malaysia, Pakistan and Afghanistan to attack diplomatic property in Australia and to harm diplomatic personnel.
In another development Tuesday, Australia’s government issued a nationwide alert that it had received a credible terrorist threat from Al-Qaida.
The message was similar to threats received in recent days by the United States and Britain, Justice Minister Chris Ellison said.
“Be alert, but not alarmed,” Ellison told Australians, adding that security agencies were now on full alert. The alert was not related to the Roche case.
As Australian security officials cracked down after the Bali attack, Roche spoke in his home several times with Colleen Egan, a journalist with The Australian newspaper.
According to Egan, Roche told the Australian Security Intelligence Organization that he had been trained to use explosives in Afghanistan, where he briefly met Osama bin Laden.
Roche also claimed he had been asked by Bashir to recruit other white people for the Al-Qaida network, Egan said. He also made claims about plans to blow up American and Israeli targets in Australia.
Roche, who speaks fluent Indonesian, said in an interview on Australian television that he supports Bashir and bin Laden.
Israel’s ambassador to Australia, Gabby Levy, was philosophical after Roche’s arrest.
“I learned about the conspiracy at the same time as everyone else in Australia,” he told JTA. “We are one of the few diplomatic missions in Australia which has had permanent security and personal protection in place for over 10 years.
“The people of Australia have sadly learned that the country is not so remote, and not out of reach of terrorist attacks,” he said.
An embassy spokesperson added: “We have not taken any added security precautions. It is business as usual. We have full confidence in the ability of the Australian Federal Police to protect us.”
Jeremy Jones, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, had a similar reaction.
“The Jewish communities throughout the country have lived with high security in place for some time now. It has become a way of life.”