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Five Australian Muslims Sentenced For Terror Plot

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Five Australian Muslims found with weapons and chemicals to make bombs and convicted of plotting a terror attack in Australia were jailed today for terms ranging from 23 to 28 years.

The men were found guilty in October 2009 of conspiring to commit an attack between July 2004 and November 2005 in retaliation for Australia's involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

During a 10-month trial, the prosecutor told the New South Wales state Supreme Court that the men obtained instructions on how to make pipe bombs capable of causing large-scale death and destruction and literature which glorified the actions of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

The prosecution never told the court of any suspected target.

Australia, a close U. S. ally, was among the first countries to commit troops to U.S.-led campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. Australia has never suffered a major peacetime attack on home soil, although 95 Australians have been killed in militant bombings in neighboring Indonesia since 2001.

Judge Anthony Whealy said in sentencing the men that the group was motivated by "intolerant, inflexible religious conviction" and said the prospects of rehabilitation were poor.

"It is clear beyond argument that the fanaticism and extremist position taken by each offender countenanced the possibility of loss of life," he said.

The men, who are aged between 25 and 44 and who cannot be named by order of the judge, were arrested in Sydney in 2005 as part of Australia's largest ever terror raids.

Judge Whealy said since their arrest the men appeared to wear their imprisonment as "some badge of honor."

The judge outlined in detail the group's stockpiling of chemicals and firearms and instructional extremist or fundamentalist material found at their Sydney homes.

Police said during the trial that they found 28,000 rounds of ammunition during raids on the men's homes.

Videos showing the execution of hostages or prisoners by mujahedin, which were never shown to the jury, were "particularly brutal and graphic," Whealy said.

"It is impossible to imagine that any civilized person could watch these videos," he said.

Prosecutors said three men had gone on paramilitary-style camps in Australia's outback to prepare for an attack, but the defense said they were just hunting, camping, and having fun.

The jury heard from 300 witnesses, examined 3,000 exhibits, watched 30 days of surveillance tapes and listened to 18 hours of phone intercepts, but there was no direct evidence linking the accused to the terrorism plot.