Wednesday 23 May 2018

Five teens held on terror charges

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has warned that the terrorism threat in Australia has escalated (AP)
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has warned that the terrorism threat in Australia has escalated (AP)

Five Australian teenagers were arrested on suspicion of plotting a terrorist attack at a Veterans' Day ceremony that included targeting police officers.

The suspects included two 18-year-olds who are alleged to have been preparing an attack at the ANZAC Day ceremony in Melbourne, Australian police acting deputy commissioner Neil Gaughan told reporters.

Another 18-year-old was arrested on weapons charges and two other men, aged 18 and 19, were in custody and assisting police, police said.

ANZAC stands for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and commemorates the First World War battle in Turkey on April 25.

The arrests took place in Melbourne, where a joint counter-terrorism team served a total of seven warrants this morning. Police said they were conducting searches at properties.

Australia's government has raised the country's terror warning level in response to the domestic threat posed by supporters of the Islamic State group.

In September last year, the group's spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani issued a message urging attacks abroad, specifically mentioning Australia.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has warned that the terrorism threat in Australia has escalated with one-third of all terrorism-related arrests since 2001 occurring in the last six months.

At least 110 Australians have gone to Iraq and Syria to fight alongside extremists, and the nation's security agency is juggling more than 400 high-priority counter-terrorism investigations - more than double the number a year ago.

In February, two men were charged with planning to launch an imminent, Islamic State-inspired terrorist attack in Australia after authorities said they appeared on a video threatening to stab the kidneys and necks of their victims.

And in September, a man arrested during a series of counterterrorism raids was charged with conspiring with an Islamic State leader in Syria to behead a random person in Sydney.

In December, Man Monis, an Iranian-born, self-styled cleric with a long criminal history, took 18 people hostage inside a cafe.

He forced them to hold up a flag bearing the Islamic declaration of faith and demanded he be delivered a flag of the Islamic State group. Monis and two hostages were killed.

Police said they believe the plot was inspired by the Islamic State group and was to have involved "edged weapons".

"At this stage we have no information that it was a planned beheading. But there was reference to an attack on police," Mr Gaughan said. "Some evidence that we have collected at a couple of the scenes, and some other information we have, leads us to believe that this particular matter was Isis-inspired."

Federal police deputy commissioner Michael Phelan said at a separate news conference that the teens had links to Numan Haider, an 18-year-old who stabbed two Melbourne police officers and was subsequently shot dead in September.

Haider had caught authorities' attention months earlier over what police considered to be troubling behaviour, including waving what appeared to be an Islamic State flag at a shopping mall.

Mr Phelan said the teenagers arrested today had been on officials' radars for months, but the investigation ramped up when it appeared they were planning a specific attack.

"This is a new paradigm for police," Mr Phelan said. "These types of attacks that are planned are very rudimentary and simple. All you need these days is a knife, a flag and a camera and one can commit a terrorist act."

One of the teens, Sevdet Besim, has appeared briefly in court on a charge of preparing for, or planning, a terrorist act. He did not apply for bail and was ordered to reappear in court next week.

Press Association

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