y MERAIAH FOLEY
Published: August 4, 2009
SYDNEY — Four men suspected of having links to a radical Islamic group from Somalia were arrested Tuesday for what authorities said was a plot to storm a military base in the Sydney suburbs and shoot as many soldiers as possible.
The men, all Australian citizens of Somali and Lebanese descent, were detained when hundreds of police officers swept through 19 houses in Melbourne early Tuesday. The raids were the culmination of a seven-month investigation involving state and federal officials and the Australian Security and Intelligence Organization, the government’s spy agency.
The police said the men, whose ages ranged from 22 to 26, planned to arm themselves with automatic weapons and stage an attack on Holsworthy Barracks, a sprawling military complex set in the scrub lands southwest of Sydney. No date was given for the alleged attack.
“This operation has disrupted an alleged terrorist attack that could have claimed many lives,” the acting federal police commissioner, Tony Negus, told reporters in Melbourne. He said the men “were prepared to inflict a sustained attack on military personnel until they themselves were killed.”
Officials say the suspects were affiliated with Al Shabab, an Islamic organization that controls much of southern Somalia and has been waging an insurgency against the country’s fragile, Western-backed transitional government. The United States considers the group a terrorist organization, saying it harbors Al Qaeda operatives wanted for orchestrating the 1998 bombings of the United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Clive Williams, a terrorism expert at the Strategic and Defense Studies Center of the Australian National University, said that increased scrutiny of Al Shabab has made it harder for sympathetic Muslim youths to travel to Somalia unnoticed, making conditions ripe for Shabab-inspired attacks elsewhere.
“Now that it has become more difficult to go there, the alternative is to go somewhere else, or do something in your home country,” Mr. Williams said. “Given that Australia’s foreign policy is closely aligned with that of the United States in many areas, particularly in relation to Afghanistan, it would make sense to wage an attack in Australia to protest against Australia’s policies.”
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced on April 29 that Australia would add 450 soldiers to its contingent in Afghanistan, increasing its force there to about 1,550. Mr. Rudd said at the time that President Obama had persuaded him to increase the deployment during discussions the previous week.
Mr. Rudd said the arrests on Tuesday offered a sobering reminder of the “enduring threat from terrorism at home, here in Australia, as well as overseas.”
The police charged one of the men, Nayef El Sayed, 25, with conspiring to plan or prepare for a terrorist attack. Mr. Sayed did not enter a plea or apply for bail when he appeared briefly before the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Tuesday. He refused to stand up when the judge entered the chambers because, his lawyer told the court, his religious beliefs prevented him from standing before anyone but God, according to local reporters who attended the hearing.
The magistrate gave the police an eight-hour extension to continue questioning another man, Saney Aweys, into Tuesday night. He and two other suspects have not been charged. Mr. Aweys, who declined legal representation, told the court that he did not know the other three men.
But prosecutors said that the federal police had intercepted numerous telephone conversations and text messages referring to the planned attack. The authorities said they planned to use these telephone intercepts and video footage of one of the men allegedly arriving at the Holsworthy base on March 28, as evidence.
The police said at least one of the men had traveled to Somalia to participate in the insurgency there, and members of the group were trying to persuade Islamic leaders to issue a fatwa, or religious edict, supporting the planned attack.
If the accusations are true, the men join the ranks of Somali expatriates and Muslim youths who have been drawn to Al Shabab, which means “youth” in Arabic. Officials in the United States have also been investigating whether a group of young men from Minnesota were recruited by the group to join the influx of foreign militants fighting against Somalia’s transitional government.
Australia has not had a major attack on its territory in recent years. However, a number of people are serving lengthy prison sentences for plots that have been uncovered since the government imposed tough anti-terror laws in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001. Dozens of Australians have been killed in attacks overseas, including three people who were killed in simultaneous suicide bomb attacks at two American hotels in Jakarta, Indonesia, last month; 88 Australians were killed when Islamic extremists bombed a bar and a nightclub on the Indonesian island of Bali in October 2002.
Australian police arrest four accused of plotting terrorist attack
Police say the four Australian citizens had received training in Somalia and were planning to attack a military barracks in Sydney.
By Huma Yusuf
posted August 04, 2009
Australian police have arrested four people in Melbourne accused of plotting a suicide attack on an Army base. The men are believed to have ties to Al Shabab, an extremist Somali organization that has been linked to Al Qaeda.
The four Australian citizens, of Somali and Lebanese descent, were arrested in a massive predawn raid that involved more than 400 police officers searching 19 locations, reports The Guardian. It was the culmination of a seven-month investigation during which police say they discovered the men had received training in Somalia and were planning to attack a military barracks in Sydney and kill as many soldiers as possible before being killed themselves.
One man, Nayef el-Sayed, has been charged with conspiring to commit a terrorist attack, reports the BBC, while police are still questioning three others. According to police, they had sought religious justification for the attack.
“Members of the group have been actively seeking a fatwa or religious ruling to justify a terror attack on Australia,” [Tony Negus, acting chief commissioner of the Australian Federal Police] said. Prosecutors told the court they had evidence some of the men had taken part in training and fighting in Somalia.
Mr. Sayed remained defiant while appearing in a magistrate’s court on Tuesday, reports The Age, an Australian daily.
El Sayed would not stand when asked to by Magistrate Peter Reardon. Asked why, El Sayed’s lawyer, Anthony Brand, said his client would stand for no man, only for God, according to his religious beliefs.
The Australian reports that police have been granted more time to question one of the four men arrested, and have applied for an extension for the other two.
The alleged target of the attack, the Holsworthy Barracks, is in an army base on the outskirts of Sydney and houses an antiterrorism unit, reports The Age.
According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Tuesday’s arrests are not entirely unexpected. A Somali Islamic scholar at the International Islamic University in Kuala Lumpur had previously pointed out that disaffected Somali youth might be recruited to participate in terrorist activities.
Two years ago, Islamic scholar Dr Herse Hilole warned that young Somali refugees in Melbourne were being seduced by Islamic extremists….
“My suspicion was that young Somali Muslims could be or may be used in the future to carry [out] some terrorist activities in Australia,” he said.
An analysis in The Times of London also points out that the Australian authorities have been aware of local terror threats.
There may be only 300,000 Muslims living in Australia, but there is a small and growing minority of Islamic extremists whose message of jihad has spread among disaffected youth….
Radical imams … have succeeded in drawing into their web young Lebanese and Somali men, some of them refugees, who feel alienated from the wider Australian community….
Last year the federal Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, warned that a terrorist threat was just as likely to emanate from disgruntled and alienated Australian youth as from an overseas organisation. The most recent report by the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation also outlined the threat from “a small but potentially dangerous minority of Australians who hold extremist views and are prepared to act in support of their beliefs”.