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Militant Islam Monitor > Articles > Jihad plot in Australia preempted by surveillance -Terror groups were in 'a race to bomb Australia'

Jihad plot in Australia preempted by surveillance -Terror groups were in 'a race to bomb Australia'

November 8, 2005



It was intelligence received by NSW Police six weeks ago that set in motion Australia's biggest terror raids.

The state's counter-terrorism command received intelligence that a group of Muslim men they had been monitoring in Sydney's southwest had made a disturbing advance.

Specifically, they were trying to obtain chemicals that could be used to make explosives.

For two years, police from the NSW counter-terrorism command had been conducting a surveillance and intelligence investigation into the group.

It began amid international concern over Islamic groups under the influence of fundamentalist sheikhs.

Police were concerned the Sydney group's radical Islamic beliefs could lead to a catastrophic attack being staged on Australian soil.

Literature, inflammatory commentary and links to overseas organisations were scrutinised through covert surveillance.

Independently, Victoria Police began their own investigation 18 months ago into a group of followers of the radical Melbourne-based cleric Abdul Nacer Benbrika, a public supporter of Osama bin Laden.

What both states found was a connection - that members of the Melbourne group and the Sydney group were travelling to meet each other.

So Operation Pandanus, involving both states' police, the Australian Federal Police and ASIO was formed.

In June this year, police and ASIO officers raided properties in Sydney and Melbourne, with some targets including men who were arrested yesterday.

At the time, no one was charged with terror offences, but in recent months, investigators have monitored increasing "chatter" among group members.

It culminated with a alleged plan to stockpile large quantities of chemicals including acetone - used as an explosive when mixed with sulphuric acid and hydrogen peroxide - over the past six weeks.

Last week the suspects were alerted that Operation Pandanus was reaching its culmination after a stream of publicity when Prime Minister John Howard announced that Australia faced a direct terror threat.

By Monday lunchtime, Police Commissioner Ken Moroney had reached a decision.

To hold off making any arrests - with planning of an attack allegedly already under way - was too great a risk. Strong, pre-emptive action was needed.

He phoned Police Minister Carl Scully requesting that an urgent and special authorisation be invoked to use unprecedented arrest and search powers.

A sealed sachet was rushed by two police officers to Governor Macquarie Tower where they witnessed Mr Scully invoke the 2002 Terrorism (Police Powers) Act for the first time.

That night, the police operations centre at Surry Hills became operational as the nerve centre for the forthcoming raids, under counter terrorism commander Assistant Commissioner Norm Hazzard, who would stay all night.

At 11pm, 360 NSW and almost 80 AFP officers assembled at Westmead in Sydney's west.

The briefing lasted for 2 1/2 hours, and at 2.30am, police executed 15 search warrants in Sydney's southwest, as Melbourne police launched their raids simultaneously. Undercover cars cruised the surrounding streets as officers were trucked in on buses. The dog squad, forensic teams and the bomb squad arrived with specialist equipment.

With the back-up of two Polair helicopters circling above, heavily-armed officers stormed homes and other premises in Lakemba, Belmore, Wiley Park, Greenacre, Illawong, Punchbowl, Hoxton Park, Condell Park, Ingleburn, Belfield, Bankstown and Kemps Creek.

One of the first to be raided was a home at Renown Ave, Wiley Park, were a man was handcuffed in a hallway while his family looked on.

At a separate unit in the same street, officers arrested a man and seized computer hard drives, mobile phones, a hunting knife and several bottles of liquid.

In Condell Park, one of the key targets was arrested in a park with the use of thermal imaging vision from a helicopter.

This meant seven Sydney men had been arrested and taken to the high-security cells at Surry Hills to be charged and brought before the courts. It was not until 9am yesterday that an eighth suspect was caught.

He was recognised by police in Green Valley and fired upon them before being shot himself, and hospitalised.


'Terror groups in race to bomb Australia'
By Simon Freeman and agencies

Two rival extremist groups were in a race to mount the first terrorist atrocity on Australian soil, a court heard today.

More than 450 armed police carried out morning raids on 23 properties across the country's two largest cities today, arresting eight men in Sydney and nine in Melbourne. Chemicals, weapons, computers and rucksacks were siezed.

One suspect was under police guard in intensive care after being shot in the neck after allegedly opening fire on police in Sydney. A handgun was said to have been found in his backpack.

Abdul Nacer Benbrika, a Muslim cleric also known as Abu Bakr who once praised Osama Bin Laden as a "great man", was among the nine men held in custody after brief court appearances in Melbourne.

It was suggested that the two loosely-affiliated groups had been in competition to carry out a major attack. Police said that although the target had not been specified, preparations were in their final stages.

The arrests came days after the government passed an urgent amendment to anti-terrorism laws making it easier for police to prosecute suspects involved in the early stages of plotting.

Ken Moroney, New South Wales Police Commissioner, told ABC Radio: "I'm satisfied that we have disrupted what I would regard as the final stages of a large-scale terrorist attack ... here in Australia." He said the he expected more arrests "in coming days and weeks".

Carl Scully, New South Wales Police Minister, said: "I was satisfied that this state was under an imminent threat of potentially a catastrophic terrorist act ... involving the attempted stockpiling of chemicals and related materials that could be used in a major explosion."

Details of the charges were given when the nine men arrested in Melbourne were brought before the city's magistrates court.

Richard Maidment QC, prosecuting, said that the men had been selling stolen cars to raise money for firearms and chemicals, and had built up a "sinking fund" for legal expenses.

"There's been talk within the Melbourne group that the Sydney group are further ahead than them and they wanted to do something about that," Mr Maidment said.

He said that the Sydney group had received military training and had stockpiled chemicals similar to those used in the July 7 bombings on London; the Melbourne group had ordered chemical handling equipment.

The nine Melbourne suspects were charged with belonging to a terrorist organisation between July 2004 and November 2005.

Mr Benbrika, a leading Algerian-Australian cleric, was said to be the spiritual leader of the group. He was further charged with directing the activities of a terrorist organisation.

Seven of the suspects were ordered to be detained until a court appearance on January 31. Two others made bail applications which will be decided tomorrow.

Fewer details were given when the seven suspects were brought before the Central Local Court in Sydney. None of the accused appeared in the public courtroom and none applied for bail.

They are accused of conspiring to manufacture explosives in preparation for a terrorist act, according to one of the defendant's charge sheets.

Adam Houda, defending one of the men, told reporters outside the court that there was no evidence that his clients were planning terrorism. He said they were victims of "scandalous political prosecutions". All seven were remanded in custody until Friday. The eighth man was said to be in a critical condition in hospital.

Australia has never been the target of a major terrorist attack, although scores of its citizens were killed in the two bomb blasts in Bali.

John Howard, Australia's Prime Minister, last week passed an amendment to harden police powers after receiving specific intelligence about a terrorist threat. Melbourne police said the new powers had helped them carry out their raids.

Opponents have said that Mr Howard's support for the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan had made Australia an inevitable target.

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