Wednesday 17 January 2018

Isil-linked teens planned fresh attack in Australia

Youths had targeted police; UK reviewing security for Anzac Day

A hostage runs to armed tactical response police officers for safety after she escaped from the Lindt Cafe siege (AP)
A hostage runs to armed tactical response police officers for safety after she escaped from the Lindt Cafe siege (AP)

Kirsten Gileneau

Five Australian teenagers were arrested yesterday on suspicion of plotting an Islamic State group-inspired terrorist attack at a Veterans' Day ceremony that included targeting police officers, officials said.

The suspects included two 18-year-olds who are alleged to have been preparing an attack at the Anzac Day ceremony in Melbourne later this month, Australian Federal 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. All the arrests took place in Melbourne.

Last night, the BBC reported that UK police are reviewing security plans for Anzac Day after events in Australia.

The Metropolitan Police said there was no "specific threat" to the UK but security for Anzac Day events was being reviewed as a "sensible precaution". Australians and New Zealanders in the UK traditionally observe the occasion, which takes place on 25 April each year, by holding services in Westminster and Hyde Park in central London.

The current UK threat level for international terrorism, set by the government, is "severe" - meaning an attack is "highly likely".

Anzac Day is the annual April 25 commemoration of th e 1915 Gallipoli landings - the first major military action fought by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps during World War I.

Australian police said they believe the plot was inspired by the Islamic State group, also known as Isil, 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," Gaughan said. "Some information we h ave, leads us to believe that this particular matter was Isil-inspired."

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.

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 troubling behaviour, including waving what appeared to be an Islamic State group flag at a shopping mall.

Phelan said the teens arrested yesterday were on officials' radar for mon ths, but the investigation was ramped up when it appeared they were planning a specific attack.

One of the teens, Sevdet Besim, appeared briefly in court yesterday 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.

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 group-inspired terrorist attack after authorities said they appeared on a video threatening to stab the kidneys and necks of their victims. In September, a man arrested during a series of counter-terrorism raids was charged with conspiring with an Islamic State group 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 Sydney cafe, 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.

Abbott said the latest alleged plot was at an advanced stage of planning, prompting police to swoop in. Still, he urged the public to participate in ANZAC Day events as usual.

Sunday Independent

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