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Australia Details ‘Sophisticated’ Plot by ISIS to Take Down Plane

The Australian police described on 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 two men, who have been charged with planning a terrorist act, were scheduled to appear in court via video link on Friday, and they were refused bail.

The Australian Federal Police said the charges covered an aborted attempt last month to place an explosive on an Etihad Airways flight from Sydney. The discovery of the plot led the authorities to tighten airport security around the nation last weekend.

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. But the bag never made it onto the flight for unknown reasons.

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

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

Investigators say that parts of the explosive, a roadside bomb, were sent through international air cargo from Turkey through Islamic State operatives in Syria to one of the suspects in Australia, Commissioner 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 I.E.D. to be placed on that flight.” But the bag never got past the check-in counter.\

Michael Phelan, the deputy commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, said at a news conference on Friday that an Islamic State commander guided a suspect in assembling what investigators believe was an improvised explosive device. CreditPeter Parks/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“As a result of that aborted attempt, there were a number of actions that took place on that day, and we did recover components of that I.E.D.,” the commissioner said.

Investigators also said that after the airport plot did not succeed, 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 which public areas to place the device, the police said.

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

Officials initially offered few details about the investigation after tightening airport securityin response to news of the plot. But at a news conference in Sydney on Friday, they asserted that investigators had “completely disrupted this plot.”

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

Investigators said that person in Australia had been receiving directions from a member of the Islamic State in Syria. The two were introduced by a brother of one of the two men charged on Friday. The brother was a senior member of the Islamic State in Syria, officials said.

The police said that the explosive device meant for the plane never passed through airport security.

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

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.

But Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said law enforcement’s success in disrupting the terrorist plot was a reminder of “why we are relentless in our determination to keep Australians safe.”

The charges against the men carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.


(c) 2017 The New York times

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