Australia says it has foiled an alleged attempt by the Islamic State (Isis) to launch a terror attack, aimed at beheading a random member of the public as a demonstration of the militant group’s clout.
Police raided properties across Sydney, Brisbane and Logan, in the early hours detaining 15 people and charging one with a terrorism-related offence.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who was briefed on the plans by intelligence chiefs last night, said: “The exhortations — quite direct exhortations — were coming from an Australian who is apparently quite senior in [Isis] to networks of support back in Australia to conduct demonstration killings here in this country,” though he did not name the person.
He confirmed that the authorities were made aware of a plan by jihadists to stage a public execution in Sydney, adding: “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.”
More than a dozen properties were raided in the country’s largest counterterrorism operation, involving more than 800 officers in Sydney alone.
Omarjan Azari, 22, from Sydney, appeared in a court today charged with conspiracy to prepare for a terrorist attack.
He is accused of conspiring with a 33-year-old former nightclub bouncer called Mohammad Ali Baryalei – for whom an arrest warrant has been issued – between May and September of this year.
Baryalei is suspected to be Australia’s most senior member of Isis.
Prosecutor Michael Allnutt said Azari was part of a scheme to “gruesomely” behead a random member of the public in an act that involved an “unusual level of fanaticism” that was “clearly designed to shock and horrify”.
Senior police chiefs say that the plan was at “a very high level” and the terror charges relate to a phone call that had been intercepted.
According to Yahoo some of those taken into custody have reportedly already had their passports invalidated.
The thwarted attack comes six days after Australia raised its terror warning from medium to high - a move which Mr Abbott advised did “not mean that a terror attack is imminent”.
In response, one of the country’s rail operators welded shut the bins in its station and announced that it would soon completely remove them.
In light of last night's raids, New South Wales Police have announced Operation Hammerhead - a "high viability policing operation" resulting in increased police presence "in public places and and public transport hubs" primarily in metropolitan Sydney.
“Operation Hammerhead will also patrol iconic locations such as the Harbour and its surrounding foreshores as well as sporting fixtures and other large scale public events,” New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said.
Mr Abbott said that Australia's culture was the antithesis of that pursued by Isis.
“These people, I regret to say, do not hate us for what we do, they hate us for who we are and how we live,” Mr Abbott added, according to the Guardian.
“That’s what makes us a target, the fact that we are different from their view of what an ideal society should look like, the fact that we are free, we are pluralist, we are tolerant, we are welcoming, we are accepting.”
It is estimated that 60 Australian citizens are fighting for Isis and al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front in Iraq and Syria, while as many as 100 people in Australia are understood to be actively supporting the extremist group, recruiting and grooming fighters as well as providing funding.
Commissioner Scipione said: “Right now is a time for calm.
“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.”
On Sunday, Mr Abbott announced that Australia would be taking a decisive role in the coalition against Isis, by joining the US in pledging a military response to the group's advancement in the Middle East.
Australia will send up to 10 aircraft and 600 personnel, though no combat troops as yet, following a request by the US.
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