Thursday, September 18, 2014

18-Sep-14: In Australia, massive police raids today seek to prevent beheadings

Law enforcement teams taking part in counter-terrorism in Sydney today
[Image Source]
Current headline at the Sydney Morning Herald: "Terrorism raids carried out across Sydney, Brisbane"
Fifteen people have been arrested and one has appeared in court after police carried out counter-terrorism raids across western Sydney and Brisbane's south. The raids were the largest of their kind in Australian history, involving hundreds of Australian Federal Police and NSW Police officers. Police said they have thwarted a "serious act of violence". Prime Minister Tony Abbott said intelligence indicated people in Australia were allegedly planning a public beheading to be carried out in the name of militant group Islamic State. Police allege the suspects were planning to snatch and behead a random member of the public, then drape them in the flag of Islamic State... In Sydney, officers raided properties in Beecroft, Bellavista, Guildford, Merrylands, Northmead, Wentworthville, Marsfield, Westmead, Castle Hill, Revesby, Bass Hill and Regents Park. Security on military bases in Australia could be stepped up in the coming days... AFP acting Commissioner Andrew Colvin said one person had been charged with serious terrorism offences and 14 others detained. Mr Colvin said police acted after there was intelligence to suggest a violent attack was going to be carried out on random members of the public... [SMH]
Australia's ABC ["Authorities thwart beheading plot in Australia's biggest ever counter-terrorism raids"]:
The emerging reality of terrorism in Australia struck home just before dawn today when more than 800 police launched synchronised raids on houses and vehicles across Sydney's west and north-west, and Brisbane's south... Commonwealth prosecutor Michael Allnutt told Sydney's Central Local Court the alleged offence was "clearly designed to shock, horrify and terrify the community"... Mr Allnutt said there was "a plan to commit extremely serious offences" that involved an "unusual level of fanaticism". He said the plot involved the "random selection of persons to rather gruesomely execute" and said there was an "irrational determination to commit that plan" because those allegedly involved continued to plot the attacks even though they knew they were under police surveillance... The court was told the charges against Azari stemmed from a single phone call intercepted earlier this week and police made their move this morning to disrupt a group of mostly Afghan Australians 48 hours after that phone call, concerned at how close it was to going ahead. "It's been an immediate reaction to a clear, imperative danger," Mr Allnutt said. "There is still an enormous amount of material for police to assess" ...The prosecution opposed bail, saying the unusual level of fanaticism meant Azari would be unlikely to adhere to any court orders.[ABC]
How irrational is that determination really?

And how connected are today's developments to those about which we wrote ["2-Feb-14: In Australia, evidence that Syria's bloodbath is bringing jihad down under"; "09-Sep-14: In Australia, terrorism no longer as far away as it once seemed"; "12-Sep-14: In Australia, the focus on home-grown terrorists gets sharper"] some days ago? It's hard to know but the police think not very:
NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione has called for calm and said this investigation did not lead to last Friday's increase of the terrorism level... "That allegation will relate to serious violence on a random member of the public here on the streets of NSW," Mr Scipione said. He said police acted on Thursday because they believed it was "the most appropriate time", given the intelligence officers had."
More questions than answers at this stage about what ABC calls Australia's new "emerging reality" . There is media speculation now that the police activity is likely to be extended to Melbourne. And it has already [source] caused the shut-down of a money-transfer business alleged to be funding terror.

A little further from the headlines, it was reported today [source] that earlier this week the 1,200 students of a Christian school in Sydney came under verbal assault from "men" in a "car" who threatened "to kill all of you here", meaning (according to the nun who heard it) "all Christians". The school, located in Harris Park (where less than 22% of the population is Australian born) in Sydney's Western suburbs near Parramatta, is the Maronite College of the Holy Family, an Arabic-language high school formerly called Our Lady of Lebanon School.
The car reportedly had a flag, similar to those brandished by Islamic State jihadists, hanging out the window. Witnesses told police the small triangular flag had Arabic words similar to "there is only one god and Muhammad is the prophet"... Maronite College spokesman Joseph Wakim said the school community was shocked but he stressed the incident was an isolated one. "People expect these situations to appear on their TV screens on the other side of the world," he said. "They don't expect them to be taking place where their children attend the school and they come to pray..." [source]
As we write this, angry voices are being heard (see Tweet below) in a Sydney suburb described in a recent Tim Blair article in the Daily Telegraph
Lakemba may be only 30 minutes from the centre of Sydney, yet it is remarkably distinct from the rest of the city. You can walk the length of crowded Haldon St and not hear a single phrase in English. On this main shopping strip the ethnic mix seems similar to what you’d find in any Arabic city. Australia may be multicultural, but Haldon St is a monoculture. This does have its advantages. If you’re ever in need of groceries at 3am, head to Lakemba, where shopkeepers keep unusual hours, particularly during Ramadan.["Last drinks in Lakemba: Tim Blair takes a look inside Sydney’s Muslim Land", Daily Telegraph, Sydney, August 18, 2014]
At this moment, the action on Lakemba's streets is not connected to Ramadan or shopping; 

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