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Australian Police Thwart Terror Plot   09/18 06:18

   Police said they thwarted a plot to carry out beheadings in Australia by 
supporters of the radical Islamic State group by detaining 15 people and 
raiding more than a dozen properties across Sydney on Thursday.

   SYDNEY (AP) -- Police said they thwarted a plot to carry out beheadings in 
Australia by supporters of the radical Islamic State group by detaining 15 
people and raiding more than a dozen properties across Sydney on Thursday.

   The raids involving 800 federal and state police officers --- the largest in 
the country's history --- came in response to intelligence that an Islamic 
State group leader in the Middle East was calling on Australian supporters to 
kill, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.

   Abbott was asked about reports that the detainees were planning to behead a 
random person in Sydney.

   "That's the intelligence we received," he told reporters. "The exhortations 
--- quite direct exhortations --- were coming from an Australian who is 
apparently quite senior in ISIL to networks of support back in Australia to 
conduct demonstration killings here in this country."

   ISIL refers to the al-Qaida splinter group leading Sunni militants in Iraq, 
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which now calls itself simply Islamic 
State.

   "This is not just suspicion, this is intent and that's why the police and 
security agencies decided to act in the way they have," Abbott said.

   The raids came just days after the country raised its terrorism threat to 
the second-highest level in response to the domestic threat posed by supporters 
of the Islamic State group. At the time, Abbott stressed that there was no 
information suggesting a terror attack was imminent.

   Later Thursday, Attorney General George Brandis confirmed that a person born 
in Afghanistan who had spent time in Australia and is now working with the 
Islamic State group in the Middle East ordered supporters in Australia to 
behead people and videotape the killings.

   "If the ... police had not acted today, there is a likelihood that this 
would have happened," Brandis told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

   Abbott and Brandis did not name the Australian. But Mohammad Ali Baryalei, 
who is believed to be Australia's most senior member of the Islamic State 
group, was named as a co-conspirator in court documents filed Thursday. Police 
have issued an arrest warrant for the 33-year-old former Sydney nightclub 
bouncer.

   One of those detained, 22-year-old Omarjan Azari of Sydney, appeared briefly 
in a Sydney court on Thursday.

   Prosecutor Michael Allnutt said Azari was involved in a plan to "gruesomely" 
kill a randomly selected person --- something that was "clearly designed to 
shock and horrify" the public. That plan involved an "unusual level of 
fanaticism," he said.

   Azari is charged with conspiracy to prepare for a terrorist attack. The 
potential penalty was not immediately clear.

   In court documents, Azari was accused of conspiring with Baryalei and others 
between May and September to prepare for a terrorist attack. Allnutt said the 
charge stemmed from the interception of a phone call a couple days ago.

   Azari did not apply for bail and did not enter a plea. His next court 
appearance was set for Nov. 13.

   His attorney, Steve Boland, said during the hearing that the allegation 
against his client was based "on one phone call." He did not speak to reporters 
outside court.

   Dozens of police spent Thursday searching Azari's home and a car parked 
across the street from his house. One officer pulled a memo out of the car from 
the Australian National Imams Council outlining concerns about Australia's new 
anti-terrorism proposals. The council did not immediately respond to messages 
seeking comment.

   A second man was charged Thursday night in connection with the raids. The 
24-year-old, who police didn't name, was charged with possessing ammunition 
without license and unauthorized possession of a prohibited weapon. He was 
released on bail and ordered to appear in court next week.

   Nine of those detained were later released, New South Wales police said.

   The Australian Security Intelligence Organization's director-general, David 
Irvine, said the threat of terrorism in the country had been rising over the 
past year, mainly due to Australians joining the Islamic State movement to 
fight in Syria and Iraq.

   "Police believe that this group that we have executed this operation on 
today had the intention and had started to carry out planning to commit violent 
acts here in Australia," said Federal Police Deputy Commissioner Andrew Colvin. 
"Those violent acts particularly related to random acts against members of the 
public."

   Police declined to reveal exact details of the attack they believe was being 
plotted. New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said only that it 
was to be carried out against a member of the public on the street and was at 
"a very high level."

   "Right now is a time for calm," Scipione said. "We need to let people know 
that they are safe, and certainly from our perspective, we know that the work 
this morning will ensure that all of those plans that may have been on foot 
have been thwarted."

   A separate series of raids was conducted Thursday in the eastern cities of 
Brisbane and Logan. Last week, Australian police arrested two men in Brisbane 
for allegedly preparing to fight in Syria, recruiting jihadists and raising 
money for the al-Qaida offshoot group Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the Nusra 
Front.

   Colvin said the raids conducted in Brisbane on Thursday were a follow-up to 
that operation. Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said the operations 
in Sydney and Brisbane were linked, but declined to release details.

   Police said at the time there was no terrorist threat to the Group of 20 
leaders' summit to be hosted by Brisbane in November that will bring President 
Barack Obama and other leaders of the world's 20 biggest economies to the 
Queensland state capital.

   Australia has estimated about 60 of its citizens are fighting for the 
Islamic State group and the Nusra Front in Iraq and Syria. Another 15 
Australian fighters had been killed, including two young suicide bombers.

   The government has said it believes about 100 Australians are actively 
supporting extremist groups from within Australia, recruiting fighters and 
grooming suicide bomber candidates as well as providing funds and equipment.

   A Sydney money transfer business owned by the sister and brother-in-law of 
convicted terrorist Khaled Sharrouf, an Islamic State fighter, had its license 
suspended this week on suspicion it had been sending 1 million Australian 
dollars ($900,000) a month to the Middle East to finance terrorism, said John 
Schimdt, chief executive of the industry regulator and corruption watchdog 
AUSTRAC.


(KA)


 
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