Public beheading fears: Tony Abbott confirms police believed terrorists planned ‘demonstration killings’
Fairfax Media understands police will allege that the suspects were planning to snatch and behead a random member of the public, then drape them in the flag of the Islamic State, also known as ISIL.
Mr Abbott, who is in Arnhem Land to fulfil an election pledge to spend a week in a remote community, said on Thursday that a senior member of Islamic State, who is an Australian, had urged supporters at home to carry out “demonstration killings” in Australia, according to intelligence reports.
The Prime Minister was asked about reports that there were plans to conduct public beheadings, and he responded: “That’s the intelligence we received.
Quite direct exhortations were coming from an Australian who is apparently quite senior in ISIL to networks in Australia to conduct demonstration killings here in this country,” Mr Abbott told reporters.
“So this is not just suspicion, this is intent.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the allegations are “truly horrifying”.
“The reports of what these people were allegedly preparing are truly shocking. Like every Australian it makes me sick to the stomach to think that some of the images that we associate with other parts of the world could possibly occur in our streets,” he said.
One of the men arrested in the morning raids appeared in a Sydney court on Thursday, where prosecutors alleged he was part of a plan to commit an act to “shock, horrify and terrify” the public. He was refused bail.
Earlier on Thursday, NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione told reporters in Sydney: “The violence was to be perpetrated on a member of the public on the streets and certainly at this stage was at a very high level.”
But Mr Scipione called for the public to remain “calm”.
“We don’t need to whip this up,” he said. “All of those plans that may have been afoot have been thwarted.
“Today’s operation reflects the reality of the threat we actually face.”
Mr Scipione said it was “of serious concern” that there were people in the “heart of our community” planning attacks, but said “we have in fact disrupted that particular attack”.
Eight hundred police raided properties and cars in the Sydney suburbs of Beecroft, Bellavista, Guildford, Merrylands, Northmead, Wentworthville, Marsfield, Westmead, Castle Hill, Revesby, Bass Hill and Regents Park in what authorities say is the largest counter-terrorism operation in Australia’s history.
Police used 25 search warrants to carry out the raids, which were ongoing on Thursday, and said three people tried to resist arrest. A firearm was seized, but Commissioner Scipione said it was “too early” to assume that would be the only weapon gathered.
Seventy AFP officers were involved in raids in Brisbane but AFP acting assistant commissioner Andrew Colvin said they were not necessarily linked.
“So while the raids in Queensland are not directly related to what’s happened here today in NSW, the investigations continue and we are looking at linkages between the two,” Mr Colvin said.
But Mr Colvin said Thursday’s raids were a “follow-up” to last week’s arrests in Brisbane.
NSW Police are launching a new operation, in which 200 police will be sent to areas where attacks may occur.
“We won’t be tolerating any misbehaviour on the streets,” the NSW Police Commissioner warned.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday that the scale of the operation “demonstrates the very real threat that’s there, and the incredibly good work which is being done by the agencies”.
He said the government was being strong in dealing with the threat both at home and abroad.
“I think this just demonstrates again that we are dealing with something that is very real here, the government knows that, we’re responding accordingly,” he said.
Last week the government raised the terror alert level to “high” meaning an attack is considered “likely”.
The government said at the time they had detected no “particular plots”.
But Mr Abbott said Friday’s increase in the threat level was not directly linked to this weeks’ raids.
“The scale and the tempo of anti-terror investigations had been increasing for many, many, months so the decision that was made a week ago to raise the terror threat level was something that was many, many weeks, even months in the making,” Mr Abbott said.