Fifteen men were arrested by Australian police during several counter-terrorism raids across the city of Sydney in New South Wales on 18 September. One of those arrested – identified as 22-year-old Omarjan Azari – was charged with conspiracy to commit a terrorist act. The raids reportedly foiled an alleged plot to behead a civilian, kidnapped at random, after draping them in the flag of Islamic State.
With regard to the arrests, Prime Minister Tony Abbott stated, “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 demonstrations here in this country.” ABC News reported on 18 September that, according to court documents, an alleged Australian Islamic State commander – identified as Mohammad Ali Baryalei – had issued the instruction to carry out the beheadings. Baryalei has been accused by authorities, quoted by ABC News on 9 September, of recruiting at least 30 Australians to fight in Syria. A warrant was issued for his arrest on 9 September.
Separate raids were also carried out that day in the city of Brisbane in Queensland state. However, police stated that the operations were not linked to those in Sydney but were a follow-up operation to a raid in the city of Logan, south of Brisbane, on 10 September, in which two men were arrested and charged with terrorism offences, including recruiting and funding people to travel to fight in Syria as well as funding Jabhat al-Nusra. Reports did not specify whether any arrests were made during the 18 September raids.
The operations on 18 September came after the prime minister announced on 12 September that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) had raised the terrorism alert level from medium to high due to the growing number of Australian nationals “working with, connected to, or inspired by” Islamist militant groups. Police stated on 18 September, however, that the threat level had not been raised as a consequence of the specific intelligence that led to the raids in Sydney.
In a BBC report on 18 September, officials stated that at least 60 Australian nationals were believed to be fighting with Islamist groups, including Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State in Syria, and approximately 100 others were actively supporting such groups. Fifteen Australian nationals – reportedly including two suicide bombers – were believed by authorities to have been killed fighting in Syria and northern Iraq. Australia, like many other countries with significant numbers of its citizens fighting with Islamist militant groups in Syria and Iraq, faces an ongoing threat both from those militants returning from fight from these conflicts as well as from those in the country inspired and encouraged by their fellow nationals fighting in Syria.
The threat to Australia may become more pronounced following the announcement on 14 September that Australia would deploy up to eight F/A-18F fighters and a surveillance aircraft to the United Arab Emirates to contribute to air strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq as well as military advisors to assist Iraqi and Peshmerga forces on the ground in Iraq.
- JUST IN TIME Australia raids foil ISIS beheading plot, PM says (foxnews.com)
- Australian police: Raids thwarted beheading plot (miamiherald.com)
- Australia launches anti-terror raids (bbc.co.uk)