Police stepped up security at Australia’s parliament to guard against a terrorist attack, as authorities investigate an alleged Islamic State beheading plot.
Intelligence agencies detected “chatter amongst these terrorist support networks” that the federal parliament in Canberra could be targeted, Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Channel 7 television today. “The Australian Federal Police will be taking over security both inside the building as well as outside.”
The government raised the terror alert last week to the highest level in a decade, citing the threat posed by local supporters of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Authorities carried out the biggest anti-terrorism operation in the Australia’s history yesterday, thwarting an alleged plot by extremists in Sydney to randomly abduct a member of the public and behead them as part of the Islamic State’s global propaganda campaign.
A senior Islamic State “operative in Syria instructed his networks here in Australia to look to commit demonstration executions,” Abbott told Channel 7 today. “Because we believed that a demonstration execution was likely quickly, we acted as we did to disrupt this particular network.”
Abbott, who will host world leaders at November’s Group of 20 summit in Brisbane, has committed 600 military personnel to the U.S.-led fight against Islamic State in the Middle East.
Omarjan Azari, 22, appeared in a Sydney court yesterday charged with preparing and planning for a terrorist act and with conspiring with Mohammad Baryalei, who is overseas and wanted by Australian police for alleged terrorism-related activty.
Prosecutor Michael Allnutt told the court yesterday the planned act was designed to “shock, horrify” and terrify the public. Defense lawyer Steven Boland said the allegations were based on one intercepted phone call. Azari, who didn’t apply for bail, was remanded in custody and the case was adjourned for Nov. 13.
Australia is strengthening laws against domestic supporters of extremist groups and says at least 60 of its citizens are fighting with militant groups in Syria and Iraq.
The government has said that 20 Australians have returned from fighting with jihadists abroad and about 100 more are funding or facilitating militants.
New South Wales Police said officers had been tasked with preventing reprisal attacks against the Muslim community.
A quarter of Australia’s population was born overseas, with 43 percent having at least one overseas-born parent, according to the 2011 census. The number of Muslims rose 69 percent in the decade to 2011 to 476,300, or 2.2 percent of the population of 21.5 million at the time, the data show.
Abbott said at the weekend Australia will deploy 400 air force personnel and 200 special forces soldiers to a U.S. military base in the United Arab Emirates along with fighter jets, as a coalition formed by President Barack Obama prepares to step up the fight against Islamic State.
The government raised the National Terrorism Public Alert System to high from medium on Sept. 12, the second-highest level, indicating the government and intelligence authorities believe an attack is likely.
Raising the alert will mean increased security screenings at airports, ports, government buildings and public gatherings such as major sporting events.
Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition government last month committed an additional A$ 630 million over four years to counter-terrorism measures. It plans to introduce security laws that will allow the arrest and jailing of returning foreign fighters while preventing extremists from departing Australia.
To contact the reporter on this story: Edward Johnson in Sydney at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Edward Johnson at email@example.com Iain McDonald