Lug­gage screen­ing in­ten­si­fied af­ter Aus­tralia air­plane plot

The Maui News - - TODAY’S PEOPLE - By ROD McGUIRK The As­so­ci­ated Press

CANBERRA, Aus­tralia — Se­cu­rity re­mained height­ened in air­ports around Aus­tralia with more in­tense screen­ing of lug­gage af­ter law en­force­ment of­fi­cials thwarted what a po­lice chief de­scribed to­day as a “cred­i­ble at­tempt to at­tack an air­craft.”

Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion Min­is­ter Peter Dut­ton de­clined to com­ment on re­ports that Is­lamist ex­trem­ists planned to kill the oc­cu­pants of a plane with poi­son gas and that a home­made bomb was to be dis­guised as a kitchen min­cer.

“Po­lice will al­lege they had the in­tent and were de­vel­op­ing the ca­pa­bil­ity,” Turn­bull told Aus­tralian Broad­cast­ing Corp.

Turn­bull announced Sun­day that “a ter­ror­ist plot to bring down an air­plane” had been dis­rupted, but re­vealed few de­tails.

Four men ar­rested in raids in Syd­ney on Saturday — two Le­banese-Aus­tralian fa­thers and their sons — had yet to be charged.

Aus­tralian Fed­eral Po­lice Com­mis­sioner An­drew Colvin said a court ruled to­day that the four could be de­tained with­out charge for seven days from their ar­rest un­der coun­tert­er­ror­ism laws.

“We be­lieve we have dis­rupted a le­git­i­mate and cred­i­ble at­tempt to at­tack an air­craft,” Colvin said with­out elab­o­rat­ing.

Colvin and the gov­ern­ment would not com­ment on re­ports that the sus­pects were not pre­vi­ously known to Aus­tralian se­cu­rity of­fi­cials and that their ar­rests fol­lowed a tip from a for­eign in­tel­li­gence agency.

“Aus­tralians can be as­sured that we have very fine in­tel­li­gence ser­vices and we moved ex­tremely quickly on this one and, as you can see, with the right out­comes,” Turn­bull said.

The Aus­tralian news­pa­per cited mul­ti­ple anony­mous sources say­ing that the plot­ters were con­struct­ing a “non­tra­di­tional” ex­plo­sive de­vice that could have emit­ted a toxic, sul­fur-based gas to kill or im­mo­bi­lize every­one on the air­craft.

Syd­ney’s The Daily Tele­graph news­pa­per re­ported that the plot­ters planned to make a bomb from wood shav­ings and ex­plo­sive ma­te­rial in­side a piece of kitchen equip­ment such as a minc­ing ma­chine.

Po­lice raided five homes Saturday and re­moved a do­mes­tic grinder and a min­cer used to make sausage, the news­pa­per re­ported.

The plot in­volved smug­gling the de­vice on a flight from Syd­ney to the Mid­dle East, pos­si­bly Dubai, as car­ryon lug­gage, the news­pa­per re­ported.

Fair­fax Me­dia re­ported that the bomb was found in a home in the sub­urb of Surry Hills, a few doors from the lo­cal mosque.

Turn­bull de­clined to say whether the group was guided by some­one over­seas.

“It’ll be al­leged that that this was an Is­lamist ex­trem­ist, ter­ror­ist mo­ti­va­tion,” Turn­bull said.

Dut­ton urged trav­el­ers to ar­rive at Aus­tralian air­ports two hours be­fore do­mes­tic flights and three hours be­fore in­ter­na­tional flights to al­low time for ad­di­tional screen­ing. Lug­gage should be kept to a min­i­mum and those ac­com­pa­ny­ing trav­el­ers will not be al­lowed to en- ter se­cured parts of ter­mi­nals.

He de­clined to de­tail the threat that the se­cu­rity staff were search­ing for.

“There’ll be lots of spec­u­la­tion around what the in­tent was . . . but I don’t want to add to that,” Dut­ton said.

“Our fo­cus now re­ally is making sure that peo­ple who are plan­ning a ter­ror­ist at­tack are thwarted,” he added.

Se­cu­rity has been in­creased at Syd­ney Air­port since Thurs­day be­cause of the plot and has since been in­creased in all ma­jor Aus­tralian in­ter­na­tional and do­mes­tic ter­mi­nals.

Turn­bull would not spec­u­late on how long air­port se­cu­rity would re­main el­e­vated.

“They will be required for as long as the threat is as­sessed as re­quir­ing them,” Turn­bull said.

Aus­tralia’s ter­ror­ist threat level re­mained un­changed at “prob­a­ble.”

Aus­tralia is a staunch ally of the United States and a part­ner in mil­i­tary cam­paigns in the Mid­dle East. The Is­lamic State has high­lighted Aus­tralia as a tar­get.

The plot was the 13th dis­rupted by po­lice since Aus­tralia’s ter­ror­ist threat level was el­e­vated in 2014. Five plots have been ex­e­cuted.

AP photo

Peo­ple crowd a ter­mi­nal at Syd­ney’s do­mes­tic air­port as pas­sen­gers are sub­jected to in­creased se­cu­rity to­day. Se­cu­rity re­mains height­ened in air­ports around Aus­tralia with more in­tense screen­ing of lug­gage af­ter law en­force­ment of­fi­cials said they had thwarted a plan to bring down an air­liner.

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