Terror trio unlikely to have plotted attack without inducement from undercover cop

The trio went as far as paying a $450 deposit for a rifle, but they abandoned their plans to buy the firearm the day before their arrests on November 20, 2018. They have been in custody since. Hanifi Halis.Credit:Nine News Judge O’Connell said the three men had embraced an opportunity […]

The trio went as far as paying a $450 deposit for a rifle, but they abandoned their plans to buy the firearm the day before their arrests on November 20, 2018. They have been in custody since.

Hanifi Halis.

Hanifi Halis.Credit:Nine News

Judge O’Connell said the three men had embraced an opportunity to learn how to use the firearm and intended to carry out a terrorist attack, killing members of the public, and advancing a “depraved and evil ideology”.

“That sort of conduct is calculated to sow fear and terror in our community and any sentence imposed in response to such conduct must seek to protect the public and deter others from resorting to similar action or threats of action,” he said.

But Judge O’Connell said the effect of the inducement by the covert operative on the offenders was significant and reduced their culpability.

“It is accepted that there was a real likelihood that, but for the inducement, the offenders would not have committed this offence,” he said.

“The contribution of the operatives to the commission of the offence was substantial. Whilst there was no coercion, the encouragement was of a high order. It would not be accurate to say that he instigated the offence, but I am satisfied that [the covert operative] drove the offenders to their destination.”

Judge O’Connell also said the covert operative had played an important role in providing authorities with insights into the group’s thinking and activities, and should not be criticised as he was performing a valuable service to the community.

Samed Eriklioglu after his arrest on November 20, 2018.

Samed Eriklioglu after his arrest on November 20, 2018.Credit:Nine News

The three men have since said they have renounced violent jihadist ideology, the court heard, but Judge O’Connell noted these claims remained untested and open to question.

He said he was prepared to find the offenders had shown some contrition, and assessed their prospects of rehabilitation as reasonable. Their early pleas of guilty substantially reduced the sentence imposed.

Federal police outside Ertunc Eriklioglu’s house in Dallas in 2018.

Federal police outside Ertunc Eriklioglu’s house in Dallas in 2018.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

Lawyers for the three men told the court in June their case was different to most other terror plotters and offenders, as the brothers and Halis cooled on their plan before their arrests and asked for the gun deposit to be returned. In other cases, authorities swooped when they sensed a build-up in plotters’ mindsets.

The trio also never set a specific plan or did reconnaissance.

The brothers’ lawyers said the pair were remorseful and apologetic, had renounced their beliefs in radical Islamism and planned to take part in deradicalisation programs.

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Samed Eriklioglu’s lawyer said his client was a “simple” man who was confused, naive and had realised he had made an “awful mistake” by getting involved.

In sentencing, Judge O’Connell said neither the prosecution nor defence had suggested that there had been a hierarchy between the three offenders or that one had played a more or less important role.

“Accordingly, I will sentence on the basis that each of the offenders are equally liable and equally culpable for the acts that constitute the offending,” he said.

Halis met the Eriklioglu brothers at a multicultural centre. The trio had been brought up as mainstream Muslims but became interested in learning more about their religion, the court was told on Tuesday.

Over time, they were exposed to sermons, lectures and videos primarily through the internet, which portrayed conflict in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, as “oppressive and unjust to Muslims”, Judge O’Connell said.

The exposure to this material radicalised the offenders, who believed they had an obligation to wage violence against perceived enemies of Islam.

At some stage the trio stopped attending mainstream mosques and set up a prayer room in Ertunc Eriklioglu’s garage.

They were arrested on the morning of November 20, 2018, at their respective homes. Items were seized by police, including phones, USB sticks and DVDs. Some devices had been used to access jihadist material through social media and the internet.

At Halis’ house, a copy of the Herald Sun newspaper dated November 10, 2018, relating to the Bourke Street terror attack was found.

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