Nestled in the heart of Sydney was a house being used by a group of extremist to plan a now thwarted attack that was only days away – and it’s quite unnerving.
Most of the time when security analysts use hypothetical situations in order to develop techniques to counter terrorism they use scenarios that can sometimes be unrealistic. Take for example a group of men that were planning to blow up a plane leaving from one of Australia’s busiest airports, on route to the Middle East using parts that had been shipped to these men from Islamic State overseas. Still think its hypothetical – it isn’t now, at least not for Australian authorities.
Four men were arrested on the weekend for trying to exactly that, blow up a plane, using an improvised explosive device made from a meat grinder that, when detonated, would release a deadly toxin. It wouldn’t bring down the plane initially but in the end it would and potentially could have killed nearly 500 people (more if it was detonated over a populated area).
Police claim that one of the men (whose name will not be printed here) was put in touch with a senior member of ISIS in Syria by his brother and that sometime between April and July of this year had high military grade explosives sent to him in order to create the device. Even if this device didn’t make its way onto the plane, it still had the potential to cause significant casualties in an airport that sees tens of thousands of people go through it daily.
Authorities were monitoring this group of extremists for a period of time and wished to continue to monitor this group for an undisclosed period of time. Cue MI-5. The British domestic spy agency had told Australian authorities that had they not moved on the group of extremists soon that they would issue a travel advisory to British citizens travelling to Australia about a potential terrorist incident; this caused the Joint Counter Terrorism Team (JICT) to move on the men and shut down the cell.
Details are continuing to come to light and one specific detail that is chilling – they had tried to do this already. According to authorities, one of the brothers of the extremists (whose names will not be printed) had put taken the device to the airport to board a flight before and was planning to carry out an attack. However the device did not get past baggage check-in and that the brother had removed and dismantled the device before leaving on the flight to the Middle East. It is not known whether authorities knew about this attempt or had plans to intercept the IED before its detonation but it is causing concern.
The original device that was part of the aborted attack did not have a toxic hydrogen sulphide substance in it however authorities have stated that the second device would have had the substance in it and that the group of extremists were directed by their ISIS recruiter to create such a device. The second device would have been used in a second attack that would have targeted public transport in Sydney such as buses or trains however authorities have alleged that such plan was in the discussion stages, that no concrete plans had been formulated and the device was not close to being functional.
Police didn’t move until July 28th and four men were arrested as part of the operation which also searched five properties in Sydney’s western suburbs. It has been alleged that police found components of the chemical dispersion device and precursor chemicals during the execution of search warrants. On Sunday, after the terror raids, a magistrate granted police extra time to charge the men using special terrorism powers granted under the Anti-Terrorism Act in which they were given seven days to charge the four men or released them – the police have since released one of the four men who has plans to launch legal action against New South Wales Police. Two of the men were each charged with two counts of acts done in preparation for, or planning, a terrorist act. They did not apply for bail and were formally refused.
Whilst terrorism is not something new to Australia and Sydney is not stranger to it, this plot has some people unnerved. Surry Hills, the suburb where the attacks were being planned from, is a place in the inner city that is known for culture, trendy bars and a 24 hour street life; this type of evil is not known in this area and the fact that the plot had nearly succeeded and plans were underway for a second attack have a lot of people on edge. Prime Minister Turnbull announced that there would be increased security measures at airports in the aftermath of the potential attack which has caused chaos (as reported earlier this week) and passengers on aircraft are nervous of flying since the attack could have happened. Authorities have called this one of the most sophisticated attacks that they have thwarted and has become the 14th attack that has been stopped by Australian authorities since 2014.
If convicted, the extremists involved in this thwarted attack could face life in prison and authorities should be applauded for stopping an attack that could have been catastrophic.