Monday, August 03, 2009
Counter terrorism raids have foiled what could have been a deadly suicide attack on Australian soil.
In a seven-month joint investigation, police uncovered an alleged plot by men of Somalian and Lebanese descent to storm the Holsworthy Army Barracks in Sydney, home to several thousand troops, and launch a suicide shoot-out.
It is alleged there had also been suspicious activity around other Australian Defence Force bases, the details of which have yet to be revealed.
"The men's intention was to actually go into the army barracks and to kill as many soldiers as they could before they themselves were killed.
"Potentially this would have been, if it had been able to be carried out the most serious terrorist attack on Australian soil."
Some 400 AFP and Victoria Police officers launched raids at 4.30am (AEST) on properties in suburbs in the Melbourne's north, inner city Carlton and Colac in the state's southwest.
They arrested four men, who are all Australian citizens, and are interviewing several others. The arrested men are a 26-year-old Carlton man, a 25-year-old Preston man, a 25-year-old man from Glenroy and a 22-year-old man from Meadow Heights.
They are expected to face the Melbourne Magistrates' Court later on Tuesday.
Mr Negus said the investigation involved a massive electronic and physical surveillance operation. Further investigations were being conducted both in Australia and overseas and more arrests have not been ruled out.
The men were seeking a fatwa, or religious ruling, to justify their plot, and it is alleged some of them had travelled to Somalia, Mr Negus said.
He said police believe the men were linked to a group called Al-Shabaab in Somalia and had been supporting the Islamic insurgency there.
Al-Shabaab has been declared a terrorist organisation by the United States.
Police will use Commonwealth anti-terrorism legislation to charge the men.
The Australian newspaper learnt of the investigation last week and agreed to hold off on publishing the story until Tuesday.
But the paper hit Melbourne streets about 1.30am, some three hours before the raids began.
Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Simon Overland said he was disappointed with the newspaper and state and federal authorities would investigate the leak.
"This, in my view, represents an unacceptable risk to the operation, an unacceptable risk to my staff," he said.
Mr Overland said police would speak to Islamic leaders in Melbourne on Tuesday to reassure them of their continuing support.
"It's also important that I reassure the broad Islamic community here in Victoria that we understand that the overwhelming and vast majority of people of Islamic faith are not terrorists," he said.
Mr Overland said the 19 search warrants being executed could take more than 24 hours to complete.
The counter-terrorism operation, dubbed Operation Neath, involved officers from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, AFP, Victoria Police, NSW Police and the NSW Crime Commission.