(from The Sacramento Bee and London’s Daily Telegraph) SYDNEY, Australia – Security forces in Australia have prevented an Islamic State plot to carry out a filmed beheading of a random person in Sydney “within days” as part of a series of gruesome public executions.
Pre-dawn raids across Sydney and Brisbane on Thursday led to the arrest of fifteen people and the reported seizure of a scimitar (a backsword or sabre with a curved blade), a gun, machetes, balaclavas (similar to a ski mask) and military fatigues which authorities said were to be used in a plot to “shock, horrify and terrorize” the community.
The raids involved more than 800 security officers and marked the biggest counter-terrorism operation in Australian history.
Tony Abbott, Australia’s prime minister, said the raids followed intelligence that a senior figure in the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, or ISIS, or Islamic State) had been directing operatives in Australia to perform “demonstration killings.”
The threat posed by fundamentalist group Islamic State beyond the Middle East hit home in Australia when police said they foiled a plot by local jihadists to carry out public beheadings on the orders of the most senior Australian member of the group.
The plot to pull people off the street and execute them on camera was uncovered when phone communications of Sydney resident Omarjan Azari were intercepted two days ago, police said.
The order for the attack on Australian soil came from Mohammad Ali Baryalei, who reportedly has close ties to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Azari was one of 15 suspects arrested early Thursday in a counter-terrorism operation, the biggest Australia has ever seen. Most of the suspects are Australians of Afghan descent, broadcaster ABC reported.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) said the operation was launched when intelligence indicated the beheadings plan was being prepared.
One of the arrested men, Omarjan Azari, 22, faced court on charges of plotting a terrorist act. A Commonwealth prosecutor, Mr. Michael Allnutt, told court that Mr Azari’s plan involved the “random selection of persons to rather gruesomely execute” – a plot designed to “shock, horrify and clearly terrify the community.”
“There is perhaps an unusual level of fanaticism in this particular matter,” he said, adding that the immediate trigger for the arrest was a phone call that took place “only a couple of days ago.”
Australian Attorney General George Brandis said there was a likelihood an attack would have happened if police and intelligence services did not act on Thursday. The men had been under surveillance since May, he said.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said calls for an attack had come from an Australian Islamist in the Middle East to the jihadist network in Australia his government has been trying to crush. “So this is not just suspicion. This is intent and that’s why the police and security agencies decided to act in the way they have,” Prime Minister Abbott said.
Baryalei, a former bouncer and actor from Sydney, is wanted by authorities in Australia on suspicion that he has recruited many young Australians for militant groups in the Middle East.
He is one of the more high-profile figures among the estimated 60 Australians authorites say have joined groups such as Islamic State and Al-Nusra Front in Iraq and Syria. In July, an man reported to be an 18-year-old from Melbourne was named by Islamic State as the suicide bomber who killed several people in Syria.
Australia last week raised its terror threat level for the first time from medium to high following warnings from intelligence agencies about Australian Islamic extremists who are set to return from fighting in Iraq and Syria. Authorities say about 60 Australians are fighting alongside jihadists for Islamic State and another 100 are actively supporting the movement from Australia. The terrorism level had been set to “medium” for 11 years (since there has been such a warning system).
Authorities reiterated however that the threat of so-called homegrown terrorist problem was seen to be getting worse, posing a risk to national security.
The government recently brought in new anti-terrorism laws aimed at preventing citizens from joining jihadist conflicts abroad. Reports said the passports of most of the 15 suspects detained Thursday had been confiscated under the new measures.
Their arrests came after two Brisbane men were charged with recruiting jihadist fighters and funding the Al-Nusra Front in Syria. One is the brother of a man who became the first Australian suicide bomber in Syria.
Media reports said the two men detained in a raid on an Islamic Center in the G20 host city had links to the suspects detained in Sydney.
Security forces conducted co-ordinated pre-dawn raids in Sydney and near Brisbane, though the two were not directly linked. The raids of three houses in Brisbane followed a separate counter-terrorism raid of an Islamic bookshop last week which resulted in charges against two men believed to be recruiting jihadist militants to fight in Syria.
Campbell Newman, the premier of the state of Queensland, said the raids in Brisbane foiled a plot – separate from the planned Sydney killings – to conduct “onshore terrorist action.”
Australia is home to Muslims from all over the world, including the descendants of Afghan, Syrian, Iraqi, Indonesian and Malaysian immigrants.
This article was compiled from news reports found at The Sacramento Bee and London’s Daily Telegraph on September 18.
1. The first paragraph of a news article should answer the questions who, what, where and when. List the who, what, where and when of this news item. (NOTE: The remainder of a news article provides details on the why and/or how.)
2. What was the specific purpose of this particular terrorist plot?
3. How many “Australians” have joined Islamist terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria; how many are actively supporting Islamic State (ISIS) from inside Australia?
4. What caused Australian authorities to raise the terror threat level from medium to high for the first time ever last week?
5. What Brisbane business was raided last week, leading to charges against two men believed to be recruiting jihadist militants to fight in Syria?
6. What has the Australian government recently done that enabled authorities to confiscate the passports of most of the 15 suspects (men?) arrested in Thursday’s raid?
7. Read the “Background” below on Muslim reaction in Australia to the discovery of the Islamic State plot to murder/behead random Australian citizens. What do you think their reaction should be?
8. U.S., U.K., Australian and European leaders and media rarely refer to terrorists as Muslim or even Islamic, instead most just use the term “Isil.” Why do you think this is so? Are they afraid? don’t want to offend? willfully ignorant? completely naive? Explain your answer.
9. Most of these “Australian” “British” “American” “European” Islamic terrorists are first generation immigrants. The one who ordered this attack is described as an “Australian” Islamist. Officials from Western governments, as well as the media are very careful about how they refer to these Islamists. Or in President Obama’s case say they are not Muslims. Do you think these terrorists consider themselves “American” or “Australian” or “British” or do they consider themselves “Islamic” only? Explain your answer.
10. Are Western governments (including the U.S.) using common sense to protect citizens from the threat of Islamic terrorists? How should governments address this growing problem? Consider and discuss the following:
- The media reports that the Australian government is concerned about the number of its citizens fighting jihad in other countries and concerned about when these men return to Australia – what they would do. What type of law should Congress enact in the U.S. to address the growing problem of Islamists recruiting Muslims for jihad in our own cities?
- Should Muslims with Australian, U.S. or other citizenship, who are known to go to Syria, etc. to wage jihad be permitted to return to these countries or should their passports and citizenship or visas be revoked?
- Should the U.S. put a temporary hold on immigration from predominantly Muslim countries?
- Should Congress enact a temporary hold on granting citizenship to these immigrants currently in the U.S.?
MUSLIM REACTION TO THE TERRORIST PLOT:
About half of Australia’s population of roughly 500,000 Muslims lives in Sydney, with the majority in the western suburbs where the raids occurred.
New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said he had ordered more police onto the streets after the raids to prevent “troublemakers” taking advantage of the tension.
But in western Sydney’s Lakemba neighbourhood, which is home to one of the country’s largest Muslim populations, there was little sign on Thursday of any increased security presence.
Several residents interviewed by Reuters said they had not heard about the raids and expressed disbelief about the plot.
- Osama Farah, a 40-year-old university student, said the raids were part and parcel of the Australian media’s unfair portrayal of Muslims as fanatics. “There are idiots everywhere. Jews, Christians, Muslims, everywhere. They must take things to the extreme because they are sick in their heart,” he said. “But to take this tiny portion of the population … it’s unfair.”
- Samier Dandan, president of the Lebanese Muslim Association, one of the country’s most influential Muslim organisations, told Reuters that the raids had the potential to inflame relations between the authorities and the community. “I hope they have very solid facts, because if they don’t, this is going to be the basic platform from which the [Muslim] community engages with law enforcement moving forward from here,” he said.
- Lakemba resident Yussuf Badreddine, 39, told Reuters he suspected the raids and terror threat level rise were aimed at distracting attention from welfare cuts in the budget. “If you see now, nobody talks about the budget. Nobody talks about the cuts to Medicare. They want to cover up what they’ve done? Terrorism,” he said. (from reuters)
and from the SacBee article above:
- “It puts a lot of pressure on Muslims living in Australia. There are reports of Muslim women being threatened in Sydney and Adelaide,” said Raihan Ismail, a researcher at the Australian National University told ABC television. “I was walking with my daughter and someone called me a terrorist. The overwhelming majority of Muslims living in this country oppose the radical extremists and Islamic state.”
–But where is the public outcry from the Muslim community against members of their religion planning and committing terrorist acts?
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