Australia says it foiled IS-directed terror plot
Two men charged with trying to put explosive on plane.
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.
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.