Police in Melbourne, Australia, have arrested five Muslims—four Australian-born Lebanese, and one Egyptian-born, all legal immigrants—for planning a series of massive attacks in the city on Christmas Day.
The plan—described as the “most substantial plot” in Australian history—included targeting several well-known sites in the city to cause death and destruction on December 25.
Police in Victoria were involved in joint counterterrorism raids in Melbourne’s north-west where five search warrants were executed as part of “Operation Kastelholm,” which also involved the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).
In total, seven nonwhites were arrested, and police say that a core group of four—the Lebanese—intended to carry out an attack in Melbourne’s central business district “involving explosives and other weapons” on Christmas Day.
Victoria Police Commissioner Graham Ashton told media that the investigation had been running for a couple of weeks but said those arrested had been “persons of interest for some time.”
The identified targets included high profile locations around Federation Square and the surrounding area, including Swanston, Flinders, and Russell Streets, Flinders Street Station, and St Paul’s Cathedral.
So far, three of the Lebanese have been named: Abdullah Chaarani, 26, of Dallas; Hamza Abbas, 21, of Flemington, and Ahmed Mohamad, 24, of Meadow Heights, all of whom have been charged with planning a terrorist attack.
Another 22-year-old Lebanese man from Broadmeadows was charged with the same offence, and will only be named after his court appearance on December 24.
The other arrested nonwhites, including a 20-year-old woman and a 26-year-old man, both from Meadow Heights, and 21-year-old man from Gladstone Park, were released without charge.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews described the plot as an “act of evil”, while Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton said police had seized “the makings of an improvised explosive device.”
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told a press conference that “police and security agencies have disrupted a very substantial terrorist plot.”
“Overnight, the Victoria Police, working with the Australian Federal Police and ASIO, have arrested seven persons, five of whom are still in custody, searched five premises, and are continuing to search them.
“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.
“This is one of the most substantial terrorist plots that have been disrupted over the last several years.”
Victoria Police Commissioner Graham Ashton told the same press conference that the plot was “going to involve an explosive event, the use of explosives, and we gathered evidence to support that.
“There has also been evidence that we will lead around the possibility of an intention to use other weapons. That could include knives and/or a firearm. Certainly these [people] are self-radicalised, we believe, but inspired by ISIS and ISIS propaganda.”
He described four of the five as “Australian-born with a Lebanese background. There is another suspect in this matter who will be charged that was an Egyptian-born Australian citizen.”
In her reaction, One Nation Leader Pauline Hanson said the raids demonstrated why there should be a ban on Muslim immigration to Australia.
“You’re not welcome here. Go and find some other place that suits your needs, your customs, your way of life and your faith,” she said.
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