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World News
Australian Police Arrest Two in Counterterror Raid
From the Wall Street Journal of Tue, 23 Dec 2014 23:28:25 EST
Australian Federal Police Deputy Commissioner Michael Phelan at a news conference announcing that two men were arrested by the Joint Counter Terrorism team in Sydney on Dec. 24, 2014.
Australian Federal Police Deputy Commissioner Michael Phelan at a news conference announcing that two men were arrested by the Joint Counter Terrorism team in Sydney on Dec. 24, 2014. Associated Press

CANBERRA, Australia—Australian police arrested two men in operations to disrupt an alleged plot to carry out a terrorist strike on a government target—hours after the prime minister warned a militant attack was thought likely following a recent hostage siege by a lone gunman in Sydney.

Counterterrorism officers from the Australian Federal Police, the country’s equivalent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, arrested the two men in raids carried out in Sydney late Tuesday. Police said one of the men was to appear in court charged with possession of documents designed to facilitate a terrorist attack.

It is an offense which, if proven, could carry a maximum prison term of 15 years. The man was refused bail after a brief court appearance, according to police.

The second man was charged with breaching a so-called control order that allows police to limit the movement or behavior of people thought to be at risk of involvement in a terrorist attack. It wasn’t immediately clear if the pair were directly involved in the same alleged plot.

Australia has been on heightened alert since earlier this month, when a self-proclaimed Muslim cleric took hostages in a cafe in central Sydney. The gunman, an Iranian immigrant named Man Haron Monis, died along with two of the hostages when police stormed in to end a 16-hour standoff. Funerals for his victims were held Tuesday.

Since Australia joined U.S.-led action against Islamic State earlier this year, the country has been boosting efforts to combat the flow of sympathizers seeking to join fighting in Iraq and Syria. A suite of tough new counterterrorism laws have been passed, bolstering the detention-and-surveillance powers of the country’s intelligence agencies and police.

Australia believes that as many as 70 of its citizens may be fighting in the Middle East currently, and that about 20 have met their deaths there. The government has canceled scores of passports to prevent its citizens traveling overseas and potentially bringing militant skills back home to mount attacks on Australian soil. Libertarian and human-rights groups have criticized the new laws and prohibitions as an overreaction.

Australia, a country that has rarely faced terrorist attacks, has stepped up police patrols in major cities ahead of the festive-season holidays. It hasn’t gone as far as France in sending troops onto the streets to deter extremists.

AFP Deputy Commissioner Michael Phelan told reporters on Wednesday that there was no evidence a terror attack was imminent, but that a group of up to 20 men under surveillance since sweeping counterterrorism raids in September had beliefs rooted in Islamic State’s brand of brutal religious conservatism.

Mr. Phelan also alleged that documents seized during an earlier raid carried out last week spoke about plans to attack potential government targets, triggering the two latest arrests. Police said a number firearms and shotguns were also seized.

“There is nothing that indicates any specific targets or time frame in relation to this particular activity at all,” Mr. Phelan said. “I am confident we’ve disrupted the activity that they were planning.”

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the threat of a terrorist attack in Australia was high after the siege incident, warning that intelligence agencies had detected an increased level of militant communication, or “chatter” in its aftermath.

Write to Rob Taylor at rob.taylor@wsj.com



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