Member of Aussie far-right group on terror charges

CANBERRA • A member of an Australian anti-immigration group accused of planning an attack may face more charges in what the government said was the first time federal terrorism laws had been used to target such right-wing groups.

Phillip Galea, 31, was charged last Saturday with acts done in preparation for a terrorist act and collecting or making documents likely to facilitate a terrorist act, after being arrested in Melbourne that day.

Galea denied the charges during an appearance before a judge in Melbourne, and said they were part of a conspiracy against the so-called "patriot" movement.

But Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Ross Guenther told the media yesterday that there was no such conspiracy.

He also said Galea or his associates may face additional charges.

"That's always a possibility given the fact that we're only in an early part of the investigation," he said.

Galea will return to court today.

Australia has been on heightened alert for attacks by home-grown radicals since 2014, and the authorities say they have thwarted a number of plots.

ABC News reported that police said the raids were in response to an alleged act against "individuals" and "property damage" but would not be drawn on what the alleged target was.

Justice Minister Michael Keenan said the charges show the country's tough new counter-terrorism laws, which some Muslim leaders have said unfairly subjected them to racial profiling, were unbiased.

"This is the first time in the history of Australia that we have used Commonwealth terrorism laws to charge someone who is alleged to have been a right-wing extremist," Mr Keenan told reporters.

Galea was a fixture at rallies held by the far-right True Blue Crew, which has previously been involved in violent clashes with pro-immigration groups, according to group co-founder Kane Miller yesterday.

But Mr Miller distanced himself and the organisation from Galea, adding that the right-wing extremist had never openly discussed any alleged plot.

The group does not condone violence, Mr Miller said, adding: "All lives are precious. Muslim lives over in Saudi Arabia, although I don't agree with them, are precious."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 09, 2016, with the headline 'Member of Aussie far-right group on terror charges'. Print Edition | Subscribe