Cops foil plan 'to kill as many as possible'
POLICE have swooped in on three Victorian men after they were caught allegedly preparing an Islamic State-inspired terrorist attack in Melbourne, which officers say was being planned to "kill as many people as possible".
Victoria Police, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and other agencies worked together as part of the Joint Counter Terrorism Team to foil the group's alleged plans, arresting the men this morning.
The three men, a 30-year-old from Dallas, a 26-year-old from Campbellfield and a 21-year-old from Greenvale, are expected to face court later today. All three are Australian citizens of Turkish background and police said their wives and children were home when they were arrested.
Victoria Police confirmed today two of the men were brothers and all three of their Australian passports were cancelled earlier this year.
"It's our view that, while a specific location had not been finalised, there was a view towards a crowded place, a place where maximum people would be attending, to be able to kill, we allege, as maximum an amount of people as possible," Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton told reporters.
"I believe, over more recent days, attempts have been made to source a semiautomatic rifle to assist with the carrying-out of that terrorism event."
Police also executed four warrants in the northwest in Melbourne, searching a property in Coolaroo.
AFP Assistant Commissioner Ian McCartney said the three men were facing life in prison.
"If we had not acted early in preventing this attack, we'll allege the consequences would have been chilling, with the potential, as the commissioner stated, with a potential significant loss of human life," he said.
The counter-terrorism team said while a specific location had not been decided on, police gathered enough evidence to be sure the attack would focus on "a place of mass gathering, where there would be crowds".
Mr Ashton said the inevitable crowds that come to Melbourne for Christmas and new year's were playing on investigators minds.
"We're getting to a busy time of the year as you know with a lot of mass gatherings occurring … as we start to head into Christmas time, there's places where mass gatherings occur, Christmas parties and that sort of thing," he said.
"That certainly, no doubt, would have played on the investigators' minds about locations as well. But we didn't have … a set location where that was occurring."
The AFP said 15 terror plots had been "disrupted" since 2014. Four plots foiled plots were described as "major".
Police allege the most recent attempt to execute a terror attack on Melbourne was "inspired" but not "directed" by IS.
The Counter Terrorism Command started investigating the three men in March but they had been "of interest" to intelligence agencies since early 2017.
MEN WERE 'ENERGISED' AFTER BOURKE ST ATTACK
The three arrests come a week after a separate terror attack occurred in the Victorian capital.
On the afternoon of November 9, 30-year-old Hassan Khalif Shire Ali pulled up in Bourke St in a four-wheel drive containing open gas cylinders, in what police said was a failed plan to cause an explosion.
Somalia-born Ali then stabbed three men, including the popular 74-year-old Italian restaurateur Sisto Malaspina, who died at the scene. The two other victims were released from Royal Melbourne Hospital last week.
Speaking to reporters today, the Joint Counter Terrorism Team said the three men had "become energised" after Ali's attack.
Police had no proof Ali was planning an attack beforehand.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton pleaded with Australians last week to help close a "black spot" in the country's ability to detect terror threats in the wake of the Bourke St attack.
"There is a real black spot for us, and that is a vulnerability," Mr Dutton said, citing comments from ASIO security director-general Duncan Lewis, who said potential terrorists were using encrypted apps so their messages couldn't be discovered.
"It is even more difficult today than it was five or 10 years ago to try to deal with some of these cases," Mr Dutton said.
"The police can't contemplate every circumstance.
"Where you have someone who is buying chemicals, importing or purchasing online different items that might be precursors to make up an explosive device, you would expect there to be intelligence around that activity.
"Where you have someone who picks up a kitchen knife and grabs a couple of gas bottles and drives into the CBD, these are very difficult circumstances to stop."