In a series of early-morning raids, Australian counterterrorism police arrested five men in the Melbourne area Saturday, over their possible involvement in a plot to attack police officers at an upcoming World War I remembrance ceremony.
Three of the men were later released; police say that Sevdet Ramdan Besim, 18, “has been charged with conspiracy to commit acts done in preparation for, or planning, terrorist acts.”
From Sydney, Stuart Cohen reports:
“Police say two of the men were planning terror attacks at ANZAC Day ceremonies, Australia’s memorial day, marking the 100th anniversary of the country’s entry into World-War I.
“Officials say the planned attack involved knives and was targeted at police. A third man was arrested on weapons charges, while two others in custody are said to be cooperating with police.
“Several of the men arrested are members of a radical Islamic study center and were associates of another man there who was killed back in September after a knife attack at a suburban Melbourne police station.
“Australia’s prime minister is urging the public not to allow the threats to stop them from attending major Anzac Day commemorations around the country.”
Australia’s ABC news agency gives this rundown of the charges, other than those against Besim:
“A second man, 18, from Hampton Park, was also arrested on terrorism-related offences this morning during a major joint counter-terrorism team operation.
“A third man was arrested for weapons offences and two other men were in custody assisting police with their inquiries, after seven search warrants were executed.”
ABC quotes Australian Federal Police AFP Acting Deputy Commissioner Neil Gaughan saying, “At this stage we have no information that it was a planned beheading. But there was reference to an attack on police.”
A neighbor of one of the men tells The Age that the sounds of flashbang grenades, smashing glass and smoke alarms woke him up — and that he’s surprised by the focus on the house next door.
“We have lived here for roughly eight years, and they have been our neighbors the whole time,” the man said. “Seriously never had any issues with them, they have been great neighbors. The son … he’s helped me fix the fence, they bring our bins up for us. We have even said to our kids if anything ever happened to us they could go next door and they’d help.”
If you’re wondering about the name ANZAC Day — the name is derived from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The observance marks the anniversary of the landing of troops at the Gallipoli peninsula, in an ill-fated operation in what is now Turkey. Thousands died in the rough campaign.