17 May 2005. 15:31:18

An Iraqi man has pleaded not guilty to charges relating to the 2001 SIEV-X incident, when hundreds of would-be illegal immigrants died when their vessel sank.

Khaleed Shnayf Daoed, 36, is facing two counts of people smuggling in Brisbane's Supreme Court.

One charge relates to the SIEV-X, which sank in October 2001, and another relating to a boat that brought 147 asylum seekers to Australia in August 2001.

Daoed was extradited from Sweden by Australian Federal Police in May 2003.

The trial is expected to continue for five weeks.

Daoed is accused of playing a lead role in organising the operations and faces up to 20 years behind bars if found guilty.

Egyptian man Abu Quassey, the main organiser of the two operations, was last year convicted in Egypt of accidental manslaughter and sentenced to seven years in jail.

The SIEV-X vessel sank in international waters patrolled by Australian customs boats, causing the deaths of 353 people, with only 44 of the asylum seekers on board, mostly Iraqis, surviving.

Daoed wept as he listened to accounts of the tragedy during committal proceedings in April last year.

The sinking caused a political controversy, with the Australian government accused of doing nothing to help those on board despite knowing about the disaster.

However a 2002 Senate inquiry in October 2002 rejected the claims, but said it is extraordinary the incident passed undetected while Australia maintained extensive maritime surveillance to halt people smuggling.


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