Aus­tralia says it foiled IS-directed ter­ror plot

Two men charged with try­ing to put ex­plo­sive on plane.

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - Jacque­line Williams ©2017 The New York Times

Aus­tralian po­lice de­scribed Fri­day an elab­o­rate ter­ror­ist plot in which two men from Syd­ney tried to place an ex­plo­sive sup­plied by the Is­lamic State on a flight last month, an op­er­a­tion that of­fi­cials said was among “the most so­phis­ti­cated plots that has ever been at­tempted on Aus­tralian soil.”

The Aus­tralian Fed­eral Po­lice said they foiled the at­tempt last month to place an ex­plo­sive on an Eti­had Air­ways flight from Syd­ney. As part of the plot, one of the men brought the ex­plo­sive de­vice to the Syd­ney air­port in a piece of lug­gage, and asked his brother to take the lug­gage on the plane with­out dis­clos­ing its ac­tual con­tents.

For un­known rea­sons, the bag never made it onto the flight.

Of­fi­cials said the dis­cov­ery of the plot was the 13th sig­nif­i­cant threat that po­lice had ex­posed and bro­ken up since Aus­tralia raised its ter­ror­ist threat level to prob­a­ble in 2014.

“This is one of the most so­phis­ti­cated plots that has ever been at­tempted on Aus­tralian soil,” Michael Phe­lan, the deputy com­mis­sioner of the Aus­tralian Fed­eral Po­lice, said at a news con­fer­ence Fri­day an­nounc­ing the charges against the two men, Khaled Mah­moud Khayat, 49, and Mah­moud Khayat, 32.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors said parts of the ex­plo­sive, a road­side bomb, were sent through in­ter­na­tional air cargo from Turkey to one of the sus­pects, Phe­lan said. He added that an Is­lamic State com­man­der told one of the sus­pects how to as­sem­ble the ex­plo­sive de­vice into “what we be­lieve was a func­tion­ing IED to be placed on that flight.” But the bag never got past the check-in counter.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors also said that af­ter the air­port plot failed, the sus­pects tried to cre­ate an im­pro­vised chem­i­cal de­vice in­tended to re­lease “highly toxic hy­dro­gen sul­fide.” An Is­lamic State op­er­a­tive in Syria ad­vised the men on where to place the de­vice, po­lice said.

“There were cer­tainly pre­cur­sor chem­i­cals that had been pro­duced,” Phe­lan said. “But they were a long way from hav­ing a chem­i­cal dis­per­sion de­vice.”

Of­fi­cials ini­tially of­fered few de­tails about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. But at the news con­fer­ence Fri­day, they as­serted that in­ves­ti­ga­tors had “com­pletely dis­rupted this plot.”

The coun­tert­er­ror­ism in­ves­ti­ga­tion started last week, af­ter lo­cal au­thor­i­ties re­ceived in­tel­li­gence that some­one in Aus­tralia was plan­ning an at­tack against what of­fi­cials de­scribed as “Aus­tralian avi­a­tion tar­gets.”

In­ves­ti­ga­tors said the per­son in Aus­tralia had been re­ceiv­ing di­rec­tions from a mem­ber of the Is­lamic State in Syria. One of the two men charged Fri­day is the brother of a se­nior mem­ber of the Is­lamic State in Syria, of­fi­cials said.

Af­ter the plot was un­cov­ered, po­lice and in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials car­ried out raids, ex­e­cut­ing six search war­rants and ar­rest­ing four peo­ple sus­pected of hav­ing con­nec­tions to the plot. One per­son was re­leased from cus­tody this week with­out charges and an­other was still in cus­tody Fri­day.

In Perth on Fri­day, the jus­tice min­is­ter, Michael Keenan, said that had the plot been car­ried out, it “could have been cat­a­strophic.”

“Aus­tralians will feel very un­nerved about hear­ing this news,” he said.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors said the sus­pects also planned a chem­i­cal at­tack.

RICK RY­CROFT / AP

Michael Phe­lan (right), deputy com­mis­sioner of the Aus­tralian Fed­eral Po­lice, and David Hud­son, deputy com­mis­sioner of the New South Wales state po­lice, de­scribe the ter­ror plot Fri­day in Syd­ney.

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