Australian authorities have arrested five teens in connection with an ISIS-like terrorist attack allegedly planned for one of the nation's most important holidays. Officials said Saturday that the teenage suspects had orchestrated a terrorist plot that would have targeted a commemorative ceremony in Melbourne on April 25, which marks Anzac Day in Australia. Two of the teens have been arrested on terrorism offenses, and another has been taken into custody on weapon-related offenses; two other young men have been arrested and held for questioning, The Independent reports.
The five teens were apprehended in the early morning hours on Saturday in a joint operation, nicknamed "Operation Rising," featuring the Victoria Police and the Australian Federal Police. The operation resulted in seven search warrants, but so far only five people have been arrested, the AFP said in a statement. Four of the five suspects are just 18 years old, while the fifth person is 19.
The AFP found that two of the 18-year-olds were allegedly planning terrorist attacks targeting police and other security officials in Melbourne, which is located in the state of Victoria, and had their sights set on an Anzac Day celebration. Those two teens, as well as the third young man arrested on weapon-related offenses, may face multiple offenses relating to preparing for and planning terrorist acts and possessing outlawed weapons, officials said Saturday.
The names of the five suspects have not been released, but news outlets have identified one suspect as 18-year-old Sevdet Besim from Hallam, a suburb of Melbourne. According to 9News Australia, Besim has already been charged, having appearing in court Saturday morning. He will remain in custody without bail.
"It was important for us to act early on a serious threat to our community," Victoria Police Acting Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton said in a statement. "Safety should always be the priority and today we have acted swiftly to disrupt an attack intended to bring harm to everyday Victorians going about their business."Patton added that while people should remain vigilant on Anzac Day, police presence will be increased. "The community should be reassured by the increased police presence at events," Victoria's deputy commissioner said. This news comes just five months after the Sydney Siege, a 16-hour, lone-gunman hostage crisis that unfold in a chocolate shop in Australia's largest city. The gunman, Man Haron Monis, was believed to have unfurled an ISIS flag at the start of the hostage situation, and the terrorist group later praised Monis in its English-language magazine, Dabiq. However, it's still disputed whether or not the hostage crisis, which left two civilians dead, should be labeled a "terrorist attack."
But Australian authorities allege that this time, they indeed foiled a potentially big terrorist attack. "We make no apologies for undertaking preemptive action to prevent violent and unprovoked attacks from taking place,"AFP Acting Deputy Commissioner National Security Neil Gaughan said in a statement.
Although authorities wouldn't elaborate on the details of the alleged plot, Gaughan told reporters that the attack would have been "violent and unprovoked." He added that there was no indication of a beheading — a tactic frequently used by ISIS militants and their followers — but "edged weapons" may have been used. There was also a reference to harming Australian police, Gaughan said.
Authorities believe that the teens were inspired by ISIS, but any direct links to the terrorist group remain unconfirmed. Besim's Instagram account, however, shows him making signs associated with ISIS amid a flurry of extremist slogans and anti-West posters — perhaps indicating just how far a reach ISIS has created via social media among young people around the globe.
Similar to Memorial Day in America, Anzac Day honors those who were killed in military conflicts. The holiday draws large numbers at commemorative events in major cities across Australia.
Daniel Andrews, the Premier of Victoria, said in a Facebook post on Saturday:
This morning's operation is another reminder of the threats facing our community, our state and our country from violent extremism and radicalisation. Violent extremism and radicalisation are threats that confront and challenge us, but they will never define us and they will never defeat us. On behalf of all Victorians, I want to thank the men and women of the Victorian Police, and the AFP, for their work. ... Countering violent extremism and radicalisation among young people is a complex problem - one we don't yet fully understand. It doesn't just affect an individual - it impacts on their family and community, as well as wider society.
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