Oz police arrest 4 in terror plot

Police officers and forensic experts inspect a house, which was raided in connection with a terror plot, in the suburb of Glenroy in Melbourne on Tuesday. REUTERS

The Australian police on Tuesday arrested four men with suspected links to a Somalia-based Islamic organisation, saying they planned to stage a suicide shooting attack on an Australian military base.

The four men, all Australian citizens of Somali and Lebanese descent, were arrested after hundreds of state and federal police swept through 19 homes in Melbourne on Tuesday, the culmination of a seven-month investigation involving Australia’s intelligence agency.

The authorities alleged the four men planned to arm themselves with semi-automatic weapons and stage a guerrilla attack on Holsworthy Barracks, a major military installation in western Sydney. “This operation has disrupted an alleged terrorist attack that could have claimed many lives,” the acting federal police commissioner, Tony Negus, said in Melbourne. “Details of the planning indicated the alleged offenders were prepared to inflict a sustained attack on military personnel until they themselves were killed.”

Negus said the men were affiliated with Al Shabab, an Islamic organisation that has been waging an insurgency against Somalia’s transitional government since 2006 and controls much of southern Somalia.

Terror list
The United States added Al Shabab to its list of foreign terrorist organisations in February 2008 and claims it harbours al-Qaeda agents wanted for their roles in the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Only one of the four suspects had been charged by Tuesday afternoon. Nayef El Sayed, a 25-year-old from northern Melbourne, appeared briefly before the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court, where he was charged with conspiring to plan or prepare a terrorist attack.

The magistrate gave the police an eight-hour time extension to continue questioning another man, Saney Aweys, who had not been charged. Two other men were awaiting court appearances. Police said they were also questioning a fifth man, who was already in custody for other reasons.

Prosecutors told the court that the federal police had intercepted numerous telephone conversations and text messages among the men about the planned attack, according to local media at the court.

The authorities said they plan to use these telephone intercepts and video footage of one of the men allegedly arriving at the Holsworthy base on March 28, as evidence.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the arrests offered a sobering reminder of the “enduring threat from terrorism at home, here in Australia, as well as overseas.”

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