Was F1 weekend a terrorist target?

A court in Melbourne, Australia, has been hearing that a group of Australian muslims planned an attack on Melbourne’s Crown Casino during the Formula 1 race weekend in 2006. Spiritual leader Abdul Nacer Benbrika and 11 of his followers have pleaded not guilty to charges that they planned a bomb attack in order to force Australia to pull its troops out of Iraq.

The plot was stopped when Australian agents and police moved in and arrested the gang in November 2005. The arrests came after a 16-month surveillance operation.

The trial began in February with the prosecution outlining the details of 500 phone conversations, recorded by telephone intercepts and hidden listening devices. The court was told that the group used 10 different mobile phones all registered with false names and addresses.

The original plan was an attack on the AFL grand final, the biggest Australian football match of the year, but raids by security forces meant that the target was changed to be the Crown Casino during the city’s Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend. The final police raids on the homes of the group found bomb-making literature and video tapes with messages from Osama bin Laden and showing beheadings.

Formula 1 security is a subject that has been quietly addressed recently with the FIA having appointed an official to examine the risks of attack at each race and to work out how these risks can be minimised.

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