The Australian government has rejected the claim that it was forced to move early with counter-terrorism raids in Sydney to head off the issuing of a public travel warning by Britain.
In response to reports on the ABC that police had launched the raids to pre-empt a travel warning, a government official said “any suggestion that Australian authorities took action to disrupt the terror plot because of pressure from international partners is absolutely wrong,” according to Fairfax Media.
“Authorities took action when they determined necessary and not under threat or pressure from any third parties. Public safety was the top priority,” he said.
Australian police arrested four men on Saturday after raiding properties in Sydney. The men are suspected of planning to bomb a plane, however no charges have been laid as yet (Tuesday).
The group of suspects are believed to have family connections with Syrian based jihadists.
Khaled Khayat (top photo, left), who has been reported as the leader of the alleged plot, has a brother who is believed to be a senior fighter with Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria.
One of the other arrested suspects, Mahmoud Kayat (top photo, right), is understood to be related to Mr Khayat.
The other two men being held by police following the operation are reported to be Abdul El Karim Merhi* and Khaled Merhi. Both men are understood to be related to Ahmed Merhi who is believed to also be fighting with ISIS in Syria.
*UPDATE 02 August: Abdul El Karim Merhi was released from custody on Tuesday night (Australian time) without charge.
The group’s alleged plans appear to have been well advanced and they may already have made an attempt to get a bomb onto a plane, according to one expert.
“We have a quite sophisticated terrorist conspiracy, in contrast to several of the more low-tech unsophisticated conspiracies which have been thwarted in Australia in recent times,” security expert Neil Fergus told the ABC’s 7:30 programme on Tuesday night.
It is believed Saturday’s counter-terrorism raids were conducted following intelligence shared with Australia by the United Kingdom and the United States.
Gulf states airline Etihad Airways has also been co-operating in the investigation.
“The Etihad Airways aviation security team is assisting the Australian Federal Police with its investigation and the matter is ongoing,” the airline said in a statement.
“Etihad is complying fully with the enhanced security measures at airports in Australia and monitoring the situation closely.”
Since the raids, security has been beefed up at Australian airports. Passengers have been advised to arrive earlier than usual for both domestic and international flights in anticipation of longer waits for security checks.