On Saturday, police raided five properties in Sydney, Australia and arrested four men, claiming that they had plans to carry a homemade bomb onto a plane. The four, two Lebanese-Australian fathers and their sons, are accused of building a non-traditional device designed to be disguised in a kitchen meat grinder. Charges have yet to be filed, but authorities have received permission to continue to hold the men.
“I can report that there has been a major joint counterterrorism operation to disrupt a terrorist plot to bring down an airplane,” said Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. “The operation is continuing.”
“The plot that we are investigating we believe was an attempt to put a device onto an aircraft, but beyond that the speculation is just that – it’s speculation,” said Andrew Colvin, commissioner of the Australian Federal Police (AFP). “Exactly what is behind this is something that we will need to investigate fully.”
The Australian, a local Australian newspaper, said the plan “involved constructing an explosive device that would kill the occupants of a plane with poisonous gas.” The device would probably have been used to kill or immobilize everyone onboard the aircraft.
As of the writing of this article, it is not known which aircraft the men planned to target, or when. However, the Sydney Daily Telegraph said they may have planned to carry the device on a flight from Sydney to a Middle East destination as carry-on luggage.
“The reality is, with terrorism, you can’t wait, you can’t wait until you put the whole puzzle together,” said New South Wales Police Commissioner Mick Fuller. “You do have to go early because if you get it wrong, the consequences are severe.”
However, despite the lack of knowledge on the case, officials believe that the plot was an elaborate one. Turnbull said the plans were “advanced”, and may have been fuelled by “an Islamist extremist motivation”. Police have continued to raid homes and collect evidence since the arrests were made.
Since the threat was disrupted, Australian airports have seen a heightened amount of security and screening to ensure passenger safety. New security will include more security officers and heightened screening of bags.
“What people can expect is there’s an increased police and security agency presence,” said Colvin. “You can expect longer delays to make sure that more screening is being done on baggage.”
“We need to remind the public the threat is there, it’s why we’ve ramped up the security at our domestic and international airports. The security measures at the airports will be in place for as long as we believe they need to be, so it may go on for some time yet,” said Australian Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton. “It may be that we need to look at the security settings at our airports, in particular our domestic airports, for an ongoing enduring period.”
“The number one priority of my government, and my commitment to the Australian people, is to keep them safe,” said Turnbull.
Australian travelers have been advised to arrive at the airport an hour earlier than they had planned to allows extra time for security. Lines at airports such as Sydney Airport and Melbourne Airport have seen huge increases in wait times.
“The primary threat to Australia still remains lone actors, but these events remind us that there is still the ability for people to have sophisticated plots and sophisticated attacks still remain a real threat,” said Justice Minister Michael Keenan. “In light of this information, it’s very important that everyone in Australia remains vigilant.”
“I want to thank the travelling public for their forbearance,” said Turnbull.
*This is a developing story. Check back for updates.