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BREAKING NEWS

Leader of Australia's 'tinnie terror' plot jailed for seven years

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SYDNEY (Reuters) - An Australian court jailed for seven years on Friday the leader of a group of men who planned to travel by motorboat from Australia to the Philippines to join Islamic State fighters.

Robert Cerantonio and four other men towed their small boat by car some 3,000 km (1,865 miles) from Melbourne to Cairns in northern Queensland state.

They planned to sail to Mindanao island in the southern Philippines to join an Islamist rebellion, but were arrested before the left Australia.

Their far-fetched 2016 plan was dubbed the "tinnie terror" plot - small aluminium boats are known as tinnies in Australia - even though their boat was made of fibreglass.

"The whole venture was poorly planned and, I fear, foredoomed to failure," Victoria state Supreme Court Justice Michael Croucher said in a statement provided by the court.

"Given the ill-suited vessel the group had purchased and their lack of serious boating experience, it is hard to imagine that they would have made it very far past the breakers," he said.

The four other men, and a fifth who was involved in planning but never left Melbourne, were jailed earlier.

Cerantonio's seven-year sentence, with no chance of parole for five years and three months, was the longest.

"As the leader of the group ... and as the one who inspired them to join the agreement, Mr Cerantonio bears a much greater moral culpability than his co-accused," Croucher said.

Cerantonio had pleaded guilty to planning the trip to the Philippines. His lawyer did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

Police who had been trailing Cerantonio initially believed he was hoping to get to Syria, where more than 100 Australians had travelled to join Islamic State, the government estimates.

BOMB IN LUGGAGE

Also on Friday, a jury was unable to reach a verdict in the case of a man accused of plotting to blow up an Etihad Airways flight with a bomb disguised as a meat mincer and put in piece of luggage, media reported.

The New South Wales Supreme Court jury found the man's brother, Khaled Khayat, guilty of his role in the 2017 plot on Wednesday.

Justice Christine Adamson dismissed the jury after it was unable to reach a decision on Mahmoud Khayat's role, meaning he could face a re-trial, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

Reuters could not reach court officials for comment after business hours.

Police had accused the two of planning two terrorist attacks - one involving the bomb, hidden in the luggage of an unwitting third brother, and the other that included a chemical gas attack on his flight to Abu Dhabi in July 2017.

The device was discovered after it was taken out of the luggage because it was deemed too heavy, and the bomb never made it past airport security.

Police suspected that the explosives used to make the bomb were sent by air cargo from Turkey as part of a plot inspired and directed by Islamic state.

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

There have been several “lone wolf” assaults, including a cafe siege in Sydney that left two hostages and the gunman dead.

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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