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Police used extraordinary powers to detain without trial -

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STEVE CANNANE, PRESENTER: In the wake of the anti-terror raids, it's been revealed Australian Federal Police used preventative detention orders for the first time to detain people without charge.

Three men were released in Sydney this afternoon after being arrested during this week's police operation.

Jason Om reports.

JASON OM, REPORTER: The anti-terror operation continued today with yet more homes searched and a bigger presence on city streets.

Three men caught up in this week's raids were free to go after being detained under preventative detention orders. The orders can be used when there's an imminent threat of a terror attack and can last between 48 hours and 14 days.

Omarjan Azari remains in custody charged with planning the attack.

TONY ABBOTT, PRIME MINISTER: Terrorist events that we believed on the basis of intelligence were likely within a few days so that's why these people were detained.

JASON OM: Earlier, there was some confusion about whether the orders were used when the Federal Police Commissioner could not elaborate.

ANDREW COLVIN, ACTING AFP COMMISSIONER: It's not trying to be difficult. It's not a question I can lawfully answer.

REPORTER: Why, can you just explain why you're keeping this a secret, why you're not telling us how many people are being detained?

ANDREW COLVIN: We have operational reasons why we don't confirm or deny numbers of people and we have legislative restrictions about what I can say publicly.

JASON OM: The AFP later clarified that legally the commissioner could not comment while the orders were in force.

BRET WALKER, FMR NATIONAL SECURITY LEGISLATION MONITOR: I think it would be a bit tough to criticise the police for keeping secret those things which do not need to be revealed at the moment.

JASON OM: It's the first time the orders have been used since being introduced after the London bombings in 2005 but the former national security watchdog, Bret Walker, says the orders are ineffective because suspects cannot be questioned. He wants the powers repealed.

BRET WALKER: Because they are understandably surrounded by so many safeguards the notion of keeping somebody in custody whom you have no intention to charge, even for a short time, is so alien to our views of liberty that it has to be wondered why would you bother inventing a whole new system when you have the familiar power of arrest?

JASON OM: Bret Walker has also backed concerns expressed by cross-bench Senator David Leyonhjelm who says new national security laws would allow ASIO to torture people.

Bret Walker says the Attorney-General's draft law is flawed.

BRET WALKER: There's every reason why Australia should continue openly to sign up to being on the side of the angels. We are against torture. We will never use it.

JASON OM: So George Brandis should put a clause in the legislation to stop torture?

BRET WALKER: Of course he should. It's very easy. It should be consistent with safeguards that presently exist in other laws already in existence in the country. Those advising the Attorney-General should have drawn that to his attention earlier.

JASON OM: The scale and scope of the proposed changes are not just worrying members of the cross-bench. Some Muslim-Australians say this week's raids are being exaggerated to justify expanding police and intelligence powers.

MUSLIM CLERIC: The mindless violence perpetrated around the world....

JASON OM: More than 100 people rallied in Sydney's Lakemba overnight at a protest led by the ultra conservative political group Hisbut Tahrir.

TONY ABBOTT: Sure they were noisy and they were emphatic but they were utterly unrepresentative of Australian Muslims. The vast majority of people in this country, regardless of their faith, are first-class Australians. They are absolutely first-class Australians.

They are here, they came here because they wanted to join our team.

JASON OM: The Muslim community is already feeling the backlash with reports of threats against mosques. This mosque in Queensland was defaced.

(Sound of Muslim prayer call)

Muslim leaders in Queensland held public open days to dispel unease.

LOGAN RESIDENT: Just wanted to bring something to show support.

JASON OM: It was a gesture of good will and they received some in return.

Jason Om, Lateline.