- Two charged and nine released after Sydney raids
- 22-year-old accused of planning public killings
Thursday 18 September 2014
A senior member of Islamic State was urging a network in Australia to carry out public beheadings, prime minister Tony Abbott said after the largest counter-terrorism raids in the country’s history.
More than 800 police officers were involved in raids in Sydney’s north-west on Thursday morning with 15 people detained.
Two men were charged and nine people released. Under Australia’s counter-terrorism laws, those detained could be held for two weeks without charge.
One man, Omarjan Azari, 22, appeared in Sydney central court on Thursday afternoon to face charges of preparing to commit a terrorist act.
It is alleged he conspired to commit the act with another man, Mohammad Baryalei, a former Sydney bouncer and actor of Afghan origin, reportedly an Islamic State leader.
On Thursday night a 24-year-old man from Merrylands in western Sydney was charged with the possession of an unauthorised weapon and possessing ammunition without a licence.
The attorney general, George Brandis, said an operation had been under way since May and he understood the raids had taken on a sense of urgency. Brandis told the ABC that he believed the atrocities would have gone ahead, had it not been for the intervention of the security services, the Australian federal police and forces from Queensland and New South Wales. “If ASIO and the AFP and the Queensland and NSW police had not acted today there is a likelihood this would have happened,” Brandis said.
The prosecution said Azari planned to “shock, horrify and potentially terrify” the public with public killings. He was refused bail.
Defence lawyers have argued the case against Azari is based on one intercepted phone call, which the prosecution said was what triggered the operation. When asked about reports that there were plans to conduct a public beheading in Australia, Abbott replied: “That’s the intelligence we received.”
“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.
“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,” he told reporters in Arnhem Land.
Abbott played down the possibility that Australia’s renewed involvement in Iraq would increase the chance of terror plots against Australian targets. He said Australia was targeted in Bali in 2002 before any involvement in the previous Iraq war.
“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. 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,” he said.
“All of these, in their eyes, are wrong and that’s what makes us a target and that’s something that should never change about us. We should always be a free, fair, open and tolerant country.”
Abbott said he had not received warnings Australia was more likely to be the subject of a homegrown terrorist attack than other countries, but it was important security agencies were one step ahead of groups who wanted to do Australians harm.
Australian federal police Acting Commissioner Andrew Colvin said a violent attack had been planned for “the streets of New South Wales”.
There were reports the plan was to kidnap someone from the street and behead them while filming it.
The pre-dawn raids in Sydney were conducted at the same time as, but not directly related to, raids in Queensland with police saying the raids south of Brisbane were in relation to a counter-terrorism raid last week where two people were arrested and charged. About 70 officers were involved in Thursday’s raids in Queensland.
The New South Wales police commissioner, Andrew Scipione, said there was no need to “whip” up the raids and that the operation reflected the strength and capability of Australia’s counter-terrorism forces.
“Our police will continue to work tirelessly to prevent any such attacks but certainly can I stress that right now, is a time for calm. We don’t need to whip this up.”
He said it would become apparent through the courts what was going to happen.
Some of those arrested have had their passports cancelled because they were planning to travel to Syria or Iraq.
Twenty-five search warrants were executed in the Sydney raids which were in the suburbs of Beecroft, Bellavista, Guildford, Merrylands, Northmead, Wentworthville, Marsfield, Westmead, Castle Hill, Revesby, Bass Hill and Regents Park.
Colvin said the officers included investigators, forensic experts, tactical officers and surveillance officers.
“This is the largest operation of its type undertaken in Australia’s history,” he said.
“I think the message that we need to make clear here is that police are working very hard across this country and are very well coordinated and the community should have absolute confidence in the work of their law enforcement security agencies to work together.
“While the raids in Queensland are not directly related to what has happened here today in NSW, as I said before, the investigations continue and we are looking at the linkages between the two.”
Police would not say if the targets of the operation had any links to Islamic State.
NSW premier Mike Baird delivered warned would-be terrorists that there would be no escape from the authorities.
“We will hunt you down,” he said on Thursday. “If you have any intent to bring overseas conflicts here, if you have any intent to threaten the security of this community, we will hunt you down.”
The raids come after the terror alert level in Australia was raised from medium to high last week.
Police say the threat level was not raised because of the intelligence that led to Thursday’s raids. Colvin said it had been raised because of a range of factors.
When asked if the prime minister was aware of the alleged planned attacks, Colvin responded: “Clearly you would understand that all levels of government need to understand what the national security threat in this country is. We have regular and ongoing briefings with all levels of government including the prime minister on the generic aspects of the national counter-terrorism threat, the national security threat.”
He added: “I don’t think anyone would be surprised it’s in the interests that the PM and political leaders have an understanding of what is going on.”
Two men aged 31 and 21 were arrested in last week’s raids in Queensland in a joint operation involving about 180 federal police and Queensland police.
It is alleged the men were involved in recruiting, facilitating and funding people to travel to Syria to engage in hostile activities.
The 31-year-old, Omar Succarieh, was charged with providing funds to the terrorist organisation Jabhat al-Nusra.
Agim Kruezi, the 21-year-old, is accused of recruiting another person to become a member of Islamic State and obtaining funds in preparation for incursions into a foreign state.
The previous largest counter-terrorism operation in Australia was Operation Pendennis in 2005 when 13 men were arrested over planned bomb attacks in Sydney and Melbourne.