December 23, 2016

AUSTRALIA: Police Foiled One Of The Nation’s Deadliest Plots. Islamist Terrorist Planned Christmas Day Massacre In The Heart Of Melbourne, Were Targeting Christian Church service.

CTV News, Canada
written by Rod McGuirk, The Associated Press
Thursday December 22, 2016

CANBERRA, Australia -- Police in Australia have detained five men suspected of planning a series of Christmas Day bomb attacks in the heart of the country's second-largest city, officials said Friday.

The suspects had been inspired by the Islamic State group and planned attacks on Melbourne's Flinders Street train station, neighbouring Federation Square and St. Paul's Cathedral, Victoria state Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton said.

The arrests came after a truck smashed into a Christmas market in Berlin on Monday, killing 12 people. A manhunt is underway for the person behind that attack, which prompted increases in security around the world.

Two of seven people initially arrested in raids Thursday night and Friday morning in Melbourne -- a 26-year-old man and a 20-year-old woman -- were released without being charged, police said.

Five men between the ages 21 and 26 remained in custody and would be charged later Friday with preparing a terrorist attack. They were not identified but police said four were born in Australia and the fifth was Egyptian-born with Egyptian and Australian citizenship.

Police had been watching the alleged plotters for some time, and believed they were preparing to use explosives, knives and a gun, Ashton said.

Police believed the threat had been neutralized through the raids on five Melbourne premises, he said.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said: "This is one of the most substantial terrorist plots that have been disrupted over the last several years."

"Islamist terrorism is a global challenge that affects us all. But we must not be cowed by the terrorists," Turnbull told reporter.

"We will continue to go about our lives as we always have. What these criminals seek to do is to kill. But they also seek to frighten us, to cow us into abandoning our Australian way of life. They want to frighten Australians. They want to divide Australians. They want us to turn on each other. We will not let them succeed," he added.

Since Australia's terrorist threat level was elevated in September 2014, the government says there have been four extremist attacks and 12 plots foiled by police.

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin said the plotters had moved very quickly from a plan to develop a capability to attack.

"In terms of events that we have seen over the past few years in Australia, this certainly concerns me more than any other event that I've seen," Colvin said.

"We believe that we have removed the bulk of this particular cell, this group," he said.

Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said there will be extra police on the streets of Melbourne on Christmas Day to make the public feel safe.

About 400 police officers were involved in the raids.

Ashton described those arrested as "self-radicalized" and inspired by Islamic State propaganda.

The Australian
written by Cameron Stewart and Tessa Akerman
Saturday December 24, 2016

The midnight Christmas service attended by up to 1400 worshippers at St Paul’s Cathedral was among the suspected targets of a terrorist plot that could have unleashed a Christmas Day massacre in the heart of Melbourne.

Three alleged Islamic extremists were charged yesterday with preparing for a terrorist act, after police foiled one of the nation’s deadliest plots, targeting the city’s iconic sites of Flinders Street ­Station, Federation Square and the Anglican cathedral.

A fourth man from Melbourne’s north faced being charged last night after a joint ­operation by Victoria Police, ASIO and Australian Federal Police. Sources did not rule out that a suicide bomber attack had been possible.

The alleged terrorist cell is ­accused of having planned to use explosives, knives and possibly guns to create carnage on one of the busiest and most symbolic days of the year, when the city is full of families and children.

The police operation continued last night with officers investigating a northern suburbs phone-­repair business linked to the original arrests. Seven people in total were arrested, with three ­released from custody.

Police believe the group was ­inspired by the Islamic State terror group but was self-radicalised. At least some of the group’s members attended and occasionally prayed at the Hume Islamic Youth Centre, which has been linked to jihadists who have fought in Syria with various forces.

Despite the alleged plot, Malcolm Turnbull urged Australians to celebrate Christmas as normal and not be cowed by the terror threat. “This is one of the most substantial terrorist plots that has been disrupted over the last ­several years,” the Prime Minister said. “But we must not be cowed by the terrorists.’’

After monitoring the men during the past 10 days, up to 400 police swooped early yesterday and Thursday night on five properties across north and northwest Melbourne, arresting six men and one woman in connection with Operation Kastelholm.

The decision to make the ­arrests came after police learned that the attack was likely to take place on Christmas Day. Early this week several suspects were ­observed by counter-terror police as they visited Flinders Street ­Station, Federation Square and St Paul’s Cathedral, in what police believe was an attempt to stake out the likely targets of the attack.

The Anglican priest responsible for St Paul’s Cathedral, Dean of Melbourne Andreas Loewe, described the foiled terrorist plot as a “deliberate attempt to disrupt our joyful celebrations of Christmas’’ and vowed to celebrate “wholeheartedly and intentionally’’ in ­defiance of those who would do us harm. “We particularly give thanks that this was discovered so timely and decisively,’’ he said.

Police believe the attackers planned to detonate at least one home-made bomb and use knives or guns in the assault, which ­Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton described as a “multi-mode attack’’. He said police had discovered materials that could be used to make at least one bomb. “There has also been evidence that we will lead around the possibility of an intention to use other weapons,” he said. “That could include knives and/or a ­firearm.”

Mr Ashton said the group ­appeared to have been self-­radicalised with propaganda from Islamic State. At least some of the men appear to have a connection to the family of jailed terrorist leader Abdul Nacer Benbrika, the head of the 2005 Pendennis plot, via his son Bakr Benbrika’s Facebook account. Bakr Benbrika, who was stopped at Melbourne Airport on suspicion of planning to travel to Syria last year, is Facebook friends with two of the accused and had yesterday morning liked a comment posted by the brother of another arrested man calling police “dogs”.

An Islamic State propaganda video last month urged terrorists to attack Melbourne landmarks including St Paul’s and the airport.

Sources said police feared the plot could include an attack at ­either the midnight Christmas ­service or the Christmas Day morning service at St Paul’s, both of which have relatively low security and attract 1000 to 1400 people.

Abdullah Chaarani, 26, of Dallas in Melbourne’s north, ­appeared first in court dressed in tracksuit pants and a black Adidas T-shirt. He sat silently during the brief hearing before magistrate Mary Robertson as police prosecutors told the court large amounts of digital evidence had been seized during the execution of six search warrants and it would take time for it to be forensically analysed. His lawyer, Jessie Smith of Stary Norton Halphen, did not apply for bail.

Hamza Abbas was the second accused to face court before magistrate Timothy Bourke, dressed in a dark grey T-shirt. Ms Smith, who represented all three accused, told the court Mr Abbas, 21, of Flemington, could be vulnerable in custody due to his youth.

She asked for a nurse to attend to her client, saying he had suffered soft-tissue injuries in the ­arrest. Mr Abbas appeared to have bruising on his cheek and Ms Smith said he had sustained face, back, hip and shoulder injuries.

The court heard the third ­accused, Ahmed Mohamed, had a pre-existing back injury that required medication. Mr Mohamed, 24, of Meadow Heights, was wearing a grey T-shirt and jeans during his brief court appearance.

He raised his hands as if to be handcuffed before leaving the courtroom and waved to four women wearing Islamic dress sitting in the back of the room. The three men were remanded to ­appear in court again in April.

Outside the court, two of the women clashed with TV camera crews and photographers.

A fourth man, a 22-year-old from Broadmeadows was last night remanded in custody to reappear in court today.

Zak Dabboussi, 21, of Gladstone Park, who was arrested, was released from custody last night.

Mr Ashton said four of those arrested were Australian-born with a Lebanese background and another was an Egyptian-born Australian citizen. Mr Chaarani’s sister answered the door at the family’s Fawkner home to protest her brother’s innocence. “I’m not surprised, they are targeting all Muslims,” she said.

Justice Minister Michael Keenan said the foiled plot could have been worse than previous plots.

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