Change of plan foils air hor­ror

Townsville Bulletin - - NATION - AN­DREW CLENNELL, DANIELLE GUSMAROLI and JANET FIFE- YEOMANS

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.”

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