In pre-dawn raids, police in Australia embarked on a major counter-terrorism operation in response to intelligence that the Islamic State was planning an imminent attack on domestic soil in an effort to show just how far the organization can reach.
In the largest terror raid in Australia’s history, close to 800 federal and state police officers were dispatched to more than 12 locations across Sydney, with more raids coordinated in Brisbane and Logan as well.
"This is not just suspicion, this is intent, and that's why the police and security agencies decided to act in the way they have," said Prime Minister Tony Abbott. "Quite direct exhortations were coming from an Australian who is apparently quite senior in ISIL [Islamic State] to networks of support back in Australia to conduct demonstration killings here in this country."
Prosecutor Michael Allnutt, speaking about one of the 15 detained suspects, Omarjan Azari, said that Azari was involved in a "plan to commit extremely serious offenses" that were "clearly designed to shock and horrify" the public. Azari has been charged with conspiracy to prepare a terrorist attack.
Exact details of the attack (or attacks) have not been revealed. New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said only that the attack was meant to be public (i.e., on the street) and at “a very high level."
In August, Khaled Sharrouf, a convicted Australian terrorist fighting with the Islamic State in Raqqa, Syria made headlines around the world when he posted a picture on Twitter of his seven-year-son holding up a man’s severed head. The picture was accompanied by the caption, “That’s my boy.”
Sharrouf was convicted of a failed attempt to blow up sites in Sydney and Melbourne. He escaped Australia on his brother’s passport after being released three weeks early from prison. His wife, Fatima, 29, is still in Sydney and was charged in July with “preparing for incursions into a foreign state with the intention of engaging in hostile activities.”
Clarion Project previously published pictures of Sharrouf’s friend and fellow Australian jihadi, Sydney-born former boxer Mohamed Elomar, holding up decapitated heads of Syrian army personnel. At the time, Sharrouf tweeted: “May Allah swt show these kuffar [infidels] what they hate from us …This guy lost his head!!! Lol.”
Government sources believe that close to 60 Australians are fighting for the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra in Iraq and Syria. To date, 15 Australian militants have been killed in the conflict, including two suicide bombers.
Officials also believe that close to 100 Australian citizens within the country are agitating for the Islamic extremists, including activities such as recruitment of fighters, fundraising and indoctrinating candidates for suicide bombings.