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Court locked down for terrorism hearings

Date

The nine accused in Australia's largest terrorist conspiracy are due to appear in a fortified Sydney court on Tuesday as their committal hearing continues amid unprecedented security.

Specialist armed police stood guard outside Penrith Local Court on the opening day of the hearing, while officers manned the streets around the courthouse that underwent major renovations to accommodate the strict security measures.

Security will be even tighter when the suspects - Mohammed Ali Elomar, Mazen Touma, Abdul Rakib Hasan, Khaled Cheikho, Moustafa Cheikho, Khaled Sharrouf, Mirsad Mulahalilovic, Omar Baladjam and Mohammed Jamal - are expected to appear.

The Sydney men were arrested in 2005 following Operation Pendennis raids by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and ASIO for allegedly conspiring to commit an act of terrorism by making explosives for an attack on Sydney's Lucas Heights nuclear reactor.

Their hearing, which will determine whether they should face trial, is cloaked in security and secrecy.

Much of the evidence is expected to be heard in a closed court in the interests of national security, while the details of the operation protecting the suspects are not being revealed.

Details of AFP and ASIO informants and surveillance also have been suppressed, although Jamal's counsel David Carroll asked Magistrate Michael Price that the government bodies reveal the techniques used to monitor his client.

"The crown needs to specify what indicated Mr Jamal was aware of AFP and ASIO surveillance," Mr Carroll said.

Even defence lawyers were subjected to the same security checks as the public, while the legal teams will be banned from taking their mobile phones and computers into the closed sessions.

The opening day of the hearing began an hour late after the teams of more than 40 lawyers, the media and public underwent stringent airport-type security screening before entering the court.

The matter was then adjourned for three hours to allow the defence to examine AFP documents, while Monday afternoon's session was held behind closed doors as legal argument centred on ASIO documents.

Evidence is expected to begin with Wendy Abrahams QC leading the prosecution.

Despite opposition from most of the lawyers involved, Penrith Court, 60km west of the Sydney CBD, was chosen to house the hearing after its security was upgraded for the 1984 Fathers' Day Milperra Massacre trial of 31 rival bikies from the Bandido and Comanchero gangs.

The courtroom still needed extensive changes, however, including glass screens and an extended public and media viewing area above the dock.

The nine suspects had allegedly been urged by their leader to inflict "maximum damage" to westerners' lives for the sake of jihad, with Lucas Height a major target.

At the time of their arrest in November 2005, NSW police alleged group members attended "jihad" training camps in western NSW, stockpiled chemicals to make explosives and that one of them was found with 165 railway detonators at his home.

Police alleged Touma, Elomar and Hasan were stopped in their car by officers near Lucas Heights in late 2004.

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