SYDNEY, Australia, June 2 (JTA) — The first person to be convicted under Australia’s new anti-terrorism law was sentenced this week to nine years in prison for conspiring to blow up the Israeli Embassy in Canberra. But Jewish figures and some Australian journalists are calling the sentence ridiculously light. Jack Roche, 50, got a reduced sentence that will make him eligible for parole in just three years. Though the crime carries a maximum sentence of 25 years, Judge Paul Healey gave Roche reduced jail time Tuesday for cooperating with authorities. On Wednesday, the full-page headline on the sentencing in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph read, “What a Joke.” “Roche pleaded guilty of conspiring to kill people. Three years in prison seems an extremely light sentence,” said Stephen Rothman, head of the Sydney Jewish Community and a lawyer. Australia’s new anti-terrorism law was enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States. Roche, originally from England and born Paul George Holland, immigrated to Australia in 1978 and converted to Islam in 1992. In 2000, Roche visited Afghanistan to train with Al-Qaida operatives, and he apparently met Osama bin Laden. Roche was then directed to return to Australia and carry out operations resulting in the destruction of the Israeli Embassy there and the murder or kidnapping of Rabbi Joseph Gutnick, a high-profile Melbourne businessman and philanthropist. Roche originally had pleaded not guilty to the charges of plotting to blow up the embassy, but last week, after 10 days in court, he changed his plea to guilty and confessed. He was not charged with conspiracy to kidnap or murder Gutnick. “We now realize that Australia cannot assume it is isolated from the rest of the world when it comes to matters of terror,” Healey said upon handing down the sentence. Because Roche already has spent a year and a half in custody, he will be eligible for parole at the half-point of his nine-year jail term, in about three years. Gutnick, in New York for a birthday celebration, said after the sentence that “terrorists will be wringing their hands in glee.” “Someone planning the murder of tens of innocent people should not get away with three years,” Gutnick said, “It’s disappointing.” Gutnick, a major financier of Israel’s Likud Party, maintains his own security detail. Jeremy Jones, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry said, “If Roche had in fact provided the government with essential information, then perhaps the court was right to take that into consideration when sentencing him.” He added that Roche’s conviction underscores the need for the expensive security measures Jewish communities throughout Australia have taken recently. During his visit to Southeast Asia in 2000, Roche apparently met with a host of terrorist leaders. In Malaysia, he met with Hambali, a senior figure in the Asian offshoot of Al-Qaida, Jemaah Islamiyah; Hambali was captured in August 2003. In Karachi, Pakistan, Roche met with the son of Abu Bakar Bashir, spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah. Bashir is believed to have been the mastermind behind the October 2002 bombing in Bali, which claimed 202 people, including 88 Australians. Roche said that after meeting bin Laden, he was asked to recruit three Australian Muslims to establish an Al-Qaida cell in Australia. To prepare for the attack against the Israeli Embassy, Roche, who had served in the British army, visited Canberra. A security guard saw him carrying a video camera, but Roche convinced the guard that he merely was interested in Canberra architecture. A trial witness, Ibrahim Fraser, also a convert to Islam, testified that Roche had told him that bin Laden had instructed him to bomb the Israeli Embassy. Another associate of Roche’s testified that Roche had said that Hambali had instructed him to consider Gutnick as a target. Roche’s lawyers told the court that Roche had attempted to contact Australian authorities to alert them of the mess he had gotten into, but that authorities did not return his calls. After the Bali bombings in 2002, Roche’s home was raided and he was arrested. In arguing for a reduced sentence, Roche’s lawyers cited these attempts, as well as information that Roche provided authorities about Hambali and Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed. After the sentencing, Israel’s acting ambassador to Australia, Orna Sagiv, told JTA, “We must respect the decision of the Australian judiciary system. It is Australia’s own responsibility to determine the manner with which they deal with convicted terrorists within their domain and we cannot comment on the way they do this.”
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