Australian authorities have foiled a “very substantial terrorist plot”, arresting a number of suspects who allegedly plotted a “multi-mode attack” involving guns and improvised explosives in central Melbourne over the Christmas holidays.
Seven people were detained following overnight raids by Victoria Police, the Australian Federal Police and Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) on Friday. Five people are still in custody and are answering questions about the alleged terrorist plot.
“Overnight our police and security agencies have disrupted a very substantial terrorist plot,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said at a press conference.
Police believe that Islamic State/(IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL)-inspired terrorists wanted to use explosives and other weapons on Christmas Day to target locations in the city, including St Paul’s Cathedral, Federation Square and Flinders Street Station.
“What they have uncovered is a plot to explode improvised explosive devices in central Melbourne in the area of Federation Square, on or about Christmas Day,” Turnbull noted.
The suspects planned to attack public sites with weapons and explosives, Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton Commissioner told journalists, adding that that four of the people arrested were Australian-born and aged in their 20s.
“The age groups range between 20 and 24 or 25. There is another suspect in this matter who will be charged that was an Egyptian-born Australian citizen. All the others were Australian-born,” he said.
“We believe [they are] self-radicalized. They are inspired by ISIS and ISIS propaganda,” Ashton added, saying there was no suggestion of international assistance to suspected terrorists.
The Chief Commissioner said that those detained wanted to use a “multi-mode attack” that would involve an explosion and the use of assault weapons.
“We believe it was certainly going to involve an explosive event … we gathered the makings of an improvised explosive device,” Ashton said. “A substantial number of people could have been injured in the attack, from what we’ve seen.”
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, who called the plot an “act of evil” promised to increase the police presence at public places in Victoria over the Christmas period.
According to Turnbull, Australian authorities have managed to thwart 12 major plots since September 2014, when the terror threat level was raised. Following 25 counterterrorism operations, some 57 people now face terrorism-related charges.