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.