Police swoop on Sydney, Brisbane homes in terror raids
September 18, 2014 9:21PM
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National Security Correspondent
Australian public targets for random attacks
Biggest anti-terrorism raids in Australia
NSW Police and Australian Federal Police conduct a counter-terror raid in Bass Hill today
NSW Police and Australian Federal Police conduct a counter-terror raid in Bass Hill today. Picture: Bill Hearne Source: News Corp Australia
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A man is arrested after raids in Guilford.
A man is arrested after raids in Guildford. Source: Supplied
A SERIES of anti-terrorism raids were sparked by intelligence reports that Islamic State supporters were planning a public execution in Australia, Prime Minister Tony Abbott says.
Details of the alleged, planned attack have emerged in the wake of the biggest anti-terrorism operation in Australia’s history, involving up to 800 police and ASIO officers in co-ordinated raids across Sydney and Brisbane this morning.
Two men have been charged following the raids after 15 people were arrested.
Nine of those detained today have now been released as investigations continue. Two women were issued Future Court Attendance Notices.
Australian Federal Police officers detain a suspect in Sydney after Australia’s largest e
Australian Federal Police officers detain a suspect in Sydney after Australia’s largest ever counter-terrorism raids. Picture: AFP
One of those charged, who police will allege was a principle in the alleged plan, has appeared in court.
Omarjan Azari, 22, is charged with conspiring with Mohammed Baryalei, understood to be the most senior Australian in the terrorist group Islamic State, “to do acts in preparation for, or planning, a terrorist act (or acts)”.
Mr Azari did not apply for bail, which was formally refused.
A second man, a 24-year-old from Merrylands, in Sydney’s west, was tonight charged with possessing ammunition without license and unauthorised possession of a prohibited weapon.
He was bailed to appear in Fairfield Local Court next Wednesday.
About 500 people gathered at a rally at Lakemba railway station, in Sydney’s west, to protest the raids and the federal government’s terror laws, due to be tabled in parliament next week.
The rally remained peaceful but passionate, with calls for
Australians to reject the “draconian policies” of the federal
Muslim activist Uthman Badar, of the hardline Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir addressed the crowd, describing recent events as the “scapegoating” of Muslims.
“Tony Abbott, last week, on the record says the government is not
aware of any specific threats,” Mr Badar told the crowd.
“Then we wake up to 800 police raiding homes across Sydney, detaining
15 people and arresting one person, with George Brandis saying they
had been aware of the threat since May.
“We would be fools not to question state power. We are not here to disrupt security, Muslims are as concerned about security as everyone else.
“There is discontent and anger in the community for being scape-goated for such a long period of time.”
Muslims protesting at Lakemba, in Sydney’s west, after the anti-terror raids. Picture: Br
Muslims protesting at Lakemba, in Sydney’s west, after the anti-terror raids. Picture: Bradley Hunter
Mr Abbott received a briefing last night on the police raid, codenamed Operation Appleby, which included intelligence that public beheadings were planned.
“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,” the Prime Minister told reporters.
“So 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.”
Attorney-General George Brandis revealed an operation had been under way since May and had the raids not occurred, Australia could have witnessed a beheading by extremists.
LIVE UPDATES: Terror raids
NSW Police will allege that some of the Sydney men arrested in the operation had communicated with the Islamic State organisation while developing their alleged plan to seize a random member of the public and behead them live on camera.
In one of the Sydney raids, police removed what appeared to be a sword.
Police remove a sword from a Sydney home.
Police remove a sword from a Sydney home.
At Mr Azari’s court hearing today, prosecutor Michael Allnutt said he was accused of plans designed to “shock” and “horrify” the community. The plan involved the “random selection of persons to rather gruesomely execute”, he said.
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The Islamic State, a terrorist organisation operating in Iraq and Syria, has carried out a series of beheadings, including of Western journalists and aid workers, which have been filmed and subsequently broadcast over the internet.
Omar Azari appears in court.
Omar Azari appears in court.
Police will allege the Sydney group had been planning their attack for a number of months, during which time they had been under surveillance by law enforcement agencies. Sources have told The Australian that members of the group had allegedly been in contact with Islamic State during this time.
Mr Abbott said today’s raids were not a result of last week’s raising of the terror alert level from “medium” to “high” but based on “specific intelligence” that people were intending to carry out an attack within the community.
Mr Abbott said the safety of Australians was the government’s highest priority and that the raids showed police and security forces were “one step ahead of those who would do us harm”.
“As many of you know, there has been a major anti-terror operation in Sydney and elsewhere early this morning,” he said. “Last night I was briefed that this was imminent. It seems to have gone ahead very smoothly and professionally from the early hours of the morning.
“I thank the AFP, the NSW police and everyone else involved in this operation. I commend them on their professionalism.”
Later today the Prime Minister will farewell Royal Australian Air Force personnel from the Amberley and Williamtown bases as they head to the United Arab Emirates, then make his way to Sydney for a briefings on the terror raids.
The decision to mount the raids, which involved hundreds of officers fro the NSW Police, Australian Federal Police, Australian Crime Commission and intelligence services, was made after authorities began to fear the attack may have been mounted at any time, police will allege.
Australian Federal Police said the suspected terrorists were planning “violent acts here in Australia”.
AFP Acting Commissioner Andrew Colvin said: “Police believe that this group that we have executed this operation today had the intention and had started to carry out planning to commit violent acts here in Australia. Those violent acts particularly related to random acts against members of the public.”
NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said the allegations would relate to “serious violence against a random member of the public here on the streets of NSW”.
“What we can indicate is the violence was to be perpetrated on a member of the public on the streets and certainly at this stage was at a very high level.”
Fifteen people were detained, including one charged with serious terrorism offences.
Some of those taken into custody had already had their passports cancelled, police said.
Mr Scipione said “reasonable force” was used to detain one man. “Today’s operation reflects the reality of the threat that we actually face,” he said.
Mr Scipione alleged random attacks were planned.
“All of those plans that may have been afoot are thwarted,” he said.
In Brisbane’s south three houses were raided this morning as part of a probe that last week saw two men charged with terrorism-related offences.
Counterterrorism teams and sniffer dogs were involved in the raids in Mt Gravatt East, Logan and Underwood, with cars and homes searched.
No arrests have been made in Brisbane, but police said the operation was a continuation of the one in which Omar Succarieh — the 31-year-old owner of an Islamic centre — and 21-year-old Agim Kruezi were arrested last week.
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Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said the Brisbane raids were carried out “in conjunction” with those that occurred in northwest Sydney that has seen 15 arrested and one man charged.
Outside a two-storey brick home in Mt Gravatt East raided this morning, neighbours said a large family had been living there for more than 20 years.
In contrast to the raids in northwest Sydney, neighbours of that home and around a newly-built townhouse in Underwood said they heard little noise when police arrived early this morning.
AFP and Queensland Police also searched a fibro house in Logan.
PICTURE GALLERY: Police swoop on terror suspects
Mr Colvin said about 800 officers had executed 25 search warrants across Sydney — comprising investigators, forensic experts, tactical specialists and surveillance officers — in the largest operation of its kind in Australian history.
A further 70 officers were involved in raids in Queensland following up the raids at Logan, in Brisbane’s south, last week. Police were investigating “linkages” between the NSW and Queensland suspected terror cells.
Mr Scipione urged calm, saying police would launch a separate Operation Hammerhead with 220 highly visible officers to clamp down on people who “may want to take retribution or in fact create trauma within communities”.
The raids come less than a week after ASIO raised the threat level of a terror attack from medium to high, meaning an attack is considered likely.
They also come a week after The Australian reported that ASIO now believes there are a handful of Islamic extremists who have what has been termed a “settled intention” to conduct an attack here in Australia.
Authorities have been conducting surveillance on people linked to the terrorist group Islamic State, which has been cutting a barbaric path through Iraq and Syria.
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In Sydney, police said a number of people have been arrested and houses raided in Beecroft, Bella Vista, Guildford, Merrylands, Northmead, Wentworthville, Marsfield, Westmead, Castle Hill, Revesby, Regents Park and Bass Hill.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison applauded the “incredibly good work” of 600 police and intelligence personnel in conducting the raids.
“We are dealing with something that is very real here,’’ Mr Morrison, a member of the National Security Committee of Cabinet, told ABC Radio. “The government knows that, we’re responding accordingly and anyone who has information on any matters should call that 1800 123 400 number to report anything,”
“The scale of what we’re seeing in this ongoing operation this morning — the 600 people, officers involved — I think demonstrates the very real threat that’s there and the incredibly good work that is being done by our agencies.”
Mr Morrison said the raids supported the government’s decision to spend $630 million boosting domestic security and support the US-led intervention against jihadists in Iraq.
Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek said the opposition had not been briefed on the raids ahead of time.
There are about 60 Australians believed to be fighting in Iraq and Syria with groups such as Islamic State, while another 100 are suspected of providing support from Australia.
The raids also come a day after a Sydney-based money transfer business owned by the sister and brother-in-law of convicted Sydney terrorist Khaled Sharrouf was shut down amid concerns it was being used to funnel funds to the Middle East to finance terrorism.
FINANCE: Company investigated
The Lakemba remittance provider, Bisotel Rieh Pty Ltd, owned by Damour Sharrouf and her husband Ahmed Alwash, was suspended after they could not account for millions of dollars transferred to Turkey and Lebanon.
Additional reporting: Mitchell Nadin, Anthony Klan, Rosie Lewis, Jared Owens, Mark Schliebs, AAP