'Sacrificial lamb' was to take bomb on to Aussie plane
AN unwitting sacrificial lamb was going to be used to carry a bomb onto a passenger jet out of Sydney as part of an alleged terror plot, The Daily Telegraph has been told.
The plan came unstuck some time ago when it was determined the explosive device they were intending to use turned out to be too heavy for cabin baggage.
"The person was going to be blown up without knowing they were part of a suicide mission," a source said.
New details about the alleged plot emerged as Australian pilots called for photo identification to be reintroduced for the issuing of all domestic plane tickets and for all airport employees, including those checking in hand luggage, to go through thorough security screening.
Australian intelligence and police only received information about the alleged plan early last week after the plans to carry the bomb disguised inside a kitchen meat mincer on board an Etihad flight to Abu Dhabi were revived.
A major concern for the counter-terrorism authorities is that they only found out about it well after plans had been hatched to blow up the aircraft.
Police moved swiftly and raided five properties across Sydney in Surry Hills, Wiley Park, Punchbowl and Lakemba on Saturday evening.
Three of the four men arrested - Khaled Merhi and his brother-in-law Khaled Khayat along with one of Mr Khayat's family - remained in custody last night and continued to be questioned by police.
None of them have been charged.
A fourth man, Abdul Merhi, 50, was released late on Tuesday without being charged.
His lawyer Moustafa Kheir said that Mr Merhi was shocked to have been arrested and felt like he was "in a movie" when he heard of the allegations of a plot to bring down a plane.
"It's a very serious allegation to have against you," Mr Kheir said. "It's just unfathomable that he would be associated with anything like this."
He said Mr Merhi's family was also in shock and that his life had been "turned upside down". "He just wants to go back to as normal life as possible now," Mr Kheir said, adding he would be reviewing the actions of police.
Police rescue and bomb disposal squad officers late yesterday moved back into the Cleveland St, Surry Hills, home where spray painter Khaled Merhi lived.
The terraced house remains a crime scene and a blue tarpaulin was placed over the flat tin garage roof.
Australian Federal Police commissioner Andrew Colvin has said the alleged plan was "Islamist inspired".
At least one of the three men still being questioned had previously been spoken to by the nation's spy organisation ASIO because of family links to an Australian-born IS fighter in Syria.
"This investigation remains ongoing, and further information will be provided at an appropriate time," a joint statement from the AFP and the NSW Police Force said.
Federal police officers also returned to the ground-floor unit in Renown Ave, Wiley Park, where Mr Khayat was arrested and continued their detailed forensic search at the Lakemba address. A kitchen meat mincer is among items seized during the raids.
Neighbours in Wiley Park described Saturday's events as chaotic. "There were cops everywhere, they wouldn't let us leave the house. It was hectic," one said.
Etihad Airways has confirmed it is helping Australian authorities with the investigation after the arrests came following a tip-off from foreign intelligence services.
Captain Murray Butt, president of the Australian Pilots' Association, which has more than 5000 members including pilots employed by all the major airlines, said there were significant problems with security at the nations's airports.
He said his members were concerned about the lack of screening of employees checking carry-on luggage, which is contracted out to private companies and wanted all ground staff to be subjected to the same security screening as aircrew.
"We believe the staff should be government employees who are checking in hand luggage. At the moment they are employed by subcontractors and don't have to be screened,'' Mr Butt said.
"While we have concerns about some aspects of airport security we do have every confidence in our intelligence and police agencies.''