Suspects arrested in Sydney raids tried to hide gas or explosives in meat mincer
Lebanese-Australians detained in Sydney raids could have killed or immobilised everyone on a plane
SYDNEY: The four Australians arrested in counter-terrorism raids over the weekend may have already attempted to bring a meat mincer containing either explosives or lethal gas on board an international flight.
When that failed, they developed an alternative plan to get the device onto a domestic flight, law enforcement officials told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
The men - reportedly two Lebanese-Australians and their sons - were arrested in raids across Sydney on Saturday evening.
The Daily Telegraph said they allegedly planned to carry the device on board a commercial flight from Sydney to a Middle Eastern destination as hand luggage.
But it added that police also found a flight number for a Jakarta to Sydney flight in a rubbish bin at a house in the Lakemba suburb yesterday morning.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that a meat mincer was being examined, while The Australian newspaper cited multiple sources as saying it was a "non-traditional" device that could have emitted a toxic sulphur-based gas.
This, it said, would have killed or immobilised everyone on the aircraft.
ABC named the apparent instigator of the plot as Khaled Khayat, who has a brother who is believed to be a senior fighter with ISIS in Syria.
The man's son, Mahmoud Khayat, is also being held by police.
The other two men arrested, Abdul Merhi and Khaled Merhi, are related to a man who travelled to Syria in 2014 and is fighting for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
"We have a quite sophisticated terrorist conspiracy, in contrast to several of the more low-tech unsophisticated conspiracies which have been thwarted in Australia in recent times," security expert Neil Fergus told the ABC.
"These networks, whether they're familial or otherwise, are very important," said Jacinta Carroll, head of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute's Counter Terrorism Policy Centre.
"That's why Australia and other countries have been so concerned about preventing the travel of their own individuals as foreign fighters."
The conspiracy to smuggle the bomb onto a flight was uncovered when a foreign intelligence agency intercepted communications to conspirators from Syria.
"They have made this disruption only three days after hearing a tip-off, presumably from a partner agency overseas, that attack-planning by this cell was imminent," Ms Carroll said.
The ABC said it had learned that police hoped to gather more evidence before arresting the men, but the British government declared they would issue a public security alert for Australian travel if the raids did not happen promptly.
Security has been strengthened at major domestic and international airports across Australia since the raids, with passengers asked to arrive early and to limit their baggage, reported AFP.
This prompted long queues at Sydney's domestic terminal yesterday morning, with officials saying extra checks were likely to continue for some time.