Australian police and intelligence services have thwarted a planned terrorist attack to blow up a domestic airplane. Speaking earlier today at a press conference in Sydney, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reported that four men had been arrested Saturday in joint counter-terrorism raids on several local homes. Police have so far searched five Sydney Australia properties in the suburbs of Surry Hills, Wiley Park, Lakemba, and Punchbowl.
According to the Australian Federal Police and the New South Wales Police Force, the plot was an Islamist-inspired effort to bring down a domestic flight, with Turnbull describing it as an “elaborate conspiracy”. The foiled attack has so far not been linked to any specific terrorist organization.
Speaking alongside the prime minister at the news conference, AFP commissioner Andrew Colvin made the following statement:
“In recent days, law enforcement has become aware of information that suggested some people in Sydney were planning to commit a terrorist act using an improvised device. We do believe it is Islamic-inspired terrorism. Exactly what is behind this is something that we will need to investigate fully.
At this time we don’t have a great deal of information on the specific attack, the location, date or time. However, we are investigating information indicating that the aviation industry was potentially a target.”
Four men were arrested Saturday, but have so far not been charged, and details of their identities have not been released to the press. The group was allegedly preparing a peroxide-based explosive device, presumably because nitrate-based chemicals can be detected by airport security. A similar peroxide bomb, made with triacetone triperoxide (TATP), was used by the Islamic State Manchester Arena bomber Salman Abedi to murder 22 youngsters attending an Ariana Grande concert in the United Kingdom in May.
Prime Minister Turnbull reported that security measures at Sydney Airport had been raised on Thursday, when counter-terrorism agencies first learned of the plot, and have now been extended to all major Australian international and domestic airport terminals. The increased security and police presence caused minor disruptions to flight services over the weekend and the prime minister told travelers to prepare for further delays this week.
The planned terror attack is the thirteenth that has been foiled by joint intelligence services and law enforcement operations since Australia’s national terror threat level was raised in 2014. The country has been on increased alert over the past few years, as militants with citizenship attempt to return from fighting in the war-torn Middle East. An estimated 100 people have flown from Australia to fight alongside Islamic State and other terror groups since 2014.
In spite of the foiled terror plots, there have still been several so-called “lone wolf” Islamist incidents in Australia, including an armed hostage situation at a café in Sydney which left two people and the kidnapper dead. However, this is the first time an aircraft has been targeted for an attack.
Turnbull stated that Australia’s terror threat remains at “probable”, and warned the public to expect tighter airport security with increased police presence until further notice. A house in the Surry Hills district remains cordoned off, with police officers stationed outside while forensics examine the property.
According to AFP Commissioner Colvin, four of the searches are likely to continue for several days. The joint counter-terrorism investigation is ongoing.
The number one priority of my Government, and my commitment to the Australian people, is to keep them safe. pic.twitter.com/xrNqvAKlJi
— Malcolm Turnbull (@TurnbullMalcolm) July 30, 2017