Police say raids involving more than 800 officers have disrupted a terror plot to inflict violence on a random member of the public.
The operation, involving NSW police, the Australian Federal Police and ASIO targeting various Sydney suburbs, resulted in 15 arrests and one Omarjan Azari, a twenty-two year old Sydney man of Afghan origin, ‘with a full facial beard’ arrested and charged during the biggest counter-terror raids in Australia’s history.
Azari, whose appearance and demographic fits the public stereotype of a terrorist so well that he could have auditioned for the part with central casting is being charged with serious terrorism-related offences. The key reason for the raid, however, was a single twenty minute phone call from an Australian ISIS operative and former actor who rang him from Iraq where there are no laws prohibiting the sale or consumption of marijuana.
Azari will appear in court today, when it’s expected police will reveal an alleged plot to behead a member of the public on camera.
“We all grew up on the street together,” Saudoba Afzal-Shanasa told 7News. “My mum knows his mother, we never thought anything like that.”
“He’s great, he’s always been friendly to us, he’s a great guy. I don’t understand how this all happened”.
Australians awoke yesterday in stunned disbelief to news that Federal police had foiled a deadly local Jihadist plot in a raid on a Sydney house early this morning. Allegedly dictated by a high-ranking Australian in the service of ISIS in Syria, the plot was to wrap a random Australian in the ISIS flag and decapitate the victim on camera. It was maintained that the images would be used to boost propaganda for the ISIS cause. It would be a ‘demonstration’ killing.
Little of this made any sense at all to thoughtful Australians. Federal Police are not generally renowned for busting Jihadists or plots or anything else, really, for that matter since their formation in 1979. Nor, as yet, have so many of them been mobilised on the basis of a single, twenty-minute mobile phone call.
There are 6,500 Federal Police, each of whom receives at least three months special training in hand to hand combat and other martial arts. They can be impressively well-armed. Federal Police can carry Glock pistols and other lethal weapons but generally they are deployed overseas or on duty guarding VIPs in Canberra, escorting Prime Ministers out jogging and the like. They don’t normally bust into migrant housing fully armed and with sniffer dogs while helicopters circle overhead in the early hours of the morning or dig up other people’s gardens. Nor do they tip off The Daily Telegraph and 2GB.
If the raid is out of character for the Federal Police, the timing also raises eyebrows. Today’s events play into the hands of the Abbott government’s desire to create a heightened state of terror alert, anxiety, xenophobia and paranoia in its citizenry.
The arrest is also so close to the PM’s terror script that it is uncanny. It’s almost as if he could have scripted it himself. And as clumsy. Our intervention in Iraq and Syria but not yet Iran has been justified by the need to protect us from home- grown Jihadis in league with ISIS, the need to support the Iraqi government and other far-fetched rationalisation.
It is so neatly scripted it beggars belief. Just a few days after the Prime Minister Tony Abbott had issued warnings of such a plot, such a plot is, indeed, conveniently discovered. Right on cue. Slick.
Receiving news that most Australians were too frightened to leave their homes and that some had taken to their beds or under their beds, gibbering in fear, heads under their doonas whilst watching daytime television, Prime Minister Tony Abbott is reported to have placed his fingertips together intoning:
Excellent. Excellent. People of Australia are to go about their daily lives without alarm, just that extra degree of heightened awareness that the situation requires.
Mr Abbott confirmed raids were sparked by intelligence ISIL was planning public executions in Australia. He said direct instructions on beheadings were coming from an Australian overseas. He did not explain how the perpetrators intended to escape justice, given the somewhat lower degree of lawlessness in Sydney when compared to Iraq or Syria. Nor did he explain why the raid had taken place in September when authorities had known of the plot since May. Nor did he spell out just how such an act could work as propaganda for ISIL.
Immaculately timed to meet breakfast television deadlines, the event caught the imagination of the nation. Australians marvelled at the incredible coincidences: a home-grown Jihadist plot was discovered just days after official warnings, the week after our terrorist alert was moved to high and on the very day that six hundred of our boys were being farewelled for their tour of duty in Iraq or wherever.
Court documents are expected to reveal the terror plan involved draping a random Sydney person in an Islamic State flag and beheading the victim on camera. It was to be a demonstration killing. Court documents would reveal nothing that might explain the uncanny coincidence that such a plot be discovered at such a convenient time for the beleaguered PM.
Attorney General (Mr Magoo) George Brandis appears to have typically wandered off message a little again in declaring that authorities had known of the plot since May. We had just been saving it up for the right time, he beamed. What Brandis didn’t explain is why in that case we had been told that there was no current threat under investigation when the terror alarm was raised to ‘High’ last week. Nor did he elaborate on how just one intercepted twenty minute phone call from a mentally unstable Australian serving with ISIS to a similar candidate at home was sufficient evidence to mobilise the entire AFP across two states. Nor has he fully explained the workings of his forensic mind to the conundrum of guilt by intention as articulated by his PM but we will learn more as the anti-terror legislation is rushed through parliament next week. Doubtless the new laws will be retrospective. Or made to measure.
“This is not just suspicion, this is intent,” he said.
“… The events this morning were based on specific intelligence that people weren’t just preparing an attack, but had the intent to mount one.”
Doubtless also, the Abbott government will need to explain how alienating and marginalising elements of Australian Muslim communities in such spectacular fashion can do anything but increase local Islamic extremism. Reaction from local Muslim communities has been swift to denounce the government’s motivation. At a protest in Lakemba last night Uthman Badar from Hizb ut-Tahrir said it was no coincidence that the raids had occurred just before the latest terrorism laws were to be introduced into parliament next week.
“They are creating fear and hysteria to justify the unjustifiable,” he said
“Enough of scapegoating the Muslim community.”
Ultimately, the fear-mongering and war-mongering has precisely the opposite effect to the official justification. Clearly, the existence of the plot suggests greater danger to Australians at home is a result of our involvement in Iraq and Syria and whatever other undeclared war zone the US commands us into. Whatever the stated motives for sending troops to the latest Middle East disaster zones, keeping the streets of Sydney safer is not one of them. And whatever the official justification of yesterday’s raids, their effect can only add to factors already radicalising the thoughts of young men attracted to extremist thoughts and deeds.
Modern terrorism doesn’t work that way. We keep killing “senior figures” in terrorist groups – indeed, it’s more than three years since we killed the most senior of them all – and nothing substantive changes.
This yields a devilish problem: namely, that we are trying to confront a threat that exists nowhere in particular, and anywhere in theory. We can’t destroy that.
There is one very clear way in which this alleged plot can succeed, even if it is never carried out: that we become so emotionally manipulated, so provoked, that we end up helplessly polarised. That becomes a problem because a symbol as ghastly as ISIL can only prosper in a febrile atmosphere. Waleed Ali