Change of plan foils air horror
AN international flight had been earmarked for a suicide attack by the alleged Sydney terror cell but they changed plans at the last minute.
It has been confirmed that the four men arrested in the weekend’s police raids have links to known terrorists locally and in Syria, including some currently facing trial for a terrorist- related murder.
“It was as close to a major terror attack as we have ever come,” a senior source said.
He said the alleged plan to bring down a plane with up to 500 passengers was close to being carried out.
Two of those arrested at the weekend, including spray painter Khaled Merhi, are related to Australian- born Islamic State fighter Ahmed Merhi, sources said.
Ahmed Merhi is wellknown to the country’s spy agency ASIO. He was being sent money in Syria via one of the western Sydney men arrested in 2014 as part of Operation Appleby, a massive three- year state and federal investigation into domestic terrorism plots.
None of the men arrested at the weekend were targeted by Operation Appleby. Ahmed Merhi is one of the eight brothers of Khaled Merhi, who was arrested on Saturday at the Surry Hills house where he lived with his parents.
One of Khaled Merhi’s other relatives was arrested at a rented two- bedroom flat in Punchbowl, where he lived with one of his five sisters.
There is no suggestion that any family member other than the men who were arrested had anything to do with the alleged plot.
The other two men, including former butcher Khaled Khayat, 50, who were arrested at Wiley Park and Lakemba, are related to the Merhis via marriage and blood.
The bomb was to be carried on to a flight as hand luggage.
“They had hatched a date prior to their arrest for the attack, but had then delayed the attack,” a source said.
Etihad Airways is working with the Australian Federal Police after reports one of the airline’s flights from Sydney to Abu Dhabi was going to be the target for the bombing.
Khaled Merhi’s father, Omar Merhi, 76, yesterday said Khaled was christened at the Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral of St George in Redfern.
“He has never been to a mosque in his life,” he said.
“It’s bulls-- t that he wanted to blow up a plane; he works hard for his child and his girlfriend, who was always asking him for money.”