3 Sunni Muslims imprisoned for firebombing Australian Shiite mosque

Men sentenced to between 16 and 22 years behind bars; they also scrawled pro-Islamic State messages on Melbourne shrine

The Imam Ali Islamic Center, a Shiite mosque in Melbourne, Australia. (Screenshot: Google Street View)
The Imam Ali Islamic Center, a Shiite mosque in Melbourne, Australia. (Screenshot: Google Street View)

MELBOURNE, Australia — Three Sunni Muslim men were sentenced on Wednesday to prison terms of 16 and 22 years on convictions including engaging in a terror act by burning down a Shiite mosque in the Australian city of Melbourne three years ago.

A Victoria state Supreme Court jury convicted Abdullah Chaarani, 28, Ahmed Mohamed, 26, and Hatim Moukhaiber, 31, in May over the firebombing of the Imam Ali Islamic Center in December 2016. No one was injured.

Mohamed and Moukhaiber had both denied any involvement. Chaarani admitted his role, but argued he had been part of an act of protest, advocacy or dissent, but not terrorism. They each faced a potential sentence of life in prison.

Chaarani and Mohamed were also found guilty of attempting to commit a terror act over a failed attempt to burn the mosque down two weeks earlier.

The words “Islamic State” were also spray painted on the exterior of the building.

Mohamed and Chaarani had previously been convicted of planning a terrorist attack on central Melbourne locations including the Federation Square restaurant and nightclub precinct, St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral and Flinders Street train station on Christmas Day in 2016.

They were among five men found guilty in November last year after the plot was foiled by police who listened to their plans and watched their reconnaissance at Federation Square. The five have yet to be sentenced on those convictions.

The latest trial heard evidence that after the first failed attempt to destroy the mosque, Mohamed and Chaarani returned with Moukhaiber in December with a 20-liter (5.3-gallon) container of gasoline and two car tires to keep the blaze going.

Their goal was to “strike a blow against, and terrorize, Shiite Muslims,” Justice Andrew Tinney said Wednesday as he sentenced the trio for their “callous, cowardly and vindictive” crimes.

Mohamed and Chaarani were imprisoned for 22 years for carrying out the act of terror and for their earlier attempt.

The pair, who are still awaiting sentencing for the Christmas Day plot, must serve at least 17 years before they’re eligible for parole. Moukhaiber must serve at least 12 years of a 16-year prison term before he becomes eligible for parole.

Tinney said the men had sought to advance the cause of the Islamic State group. The three men laughed and chatted among themselves as the judge took more than two hours to deliver his sentencing remarks.

Moukhaiber whooped and danced after being led from the courtroom by security. The men smiled and waved at a number of supporters in court.

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