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August 5, 2009

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Australian police foil terrorist plot to invade a military base

AUSTRALIAN police said yesterday they have thwarted a terrorist plot in which extremists with ties to an al-Qaida-linked Somali Islamist group planned to invade a military base and open fire with automatic weapons until they were shot dead themselves.

Some 400 officers from state and national security services took part in 19 raids on properties in Melbourne, Australia's second largest city, before dawn yesterday, arresting four men and detaining several others for questioning, police said.

Australian Federal Police Acting Commissioner Tony Negus said the raids followed a seven-month surveillance operation of a group of people with alleged ties to al-Shabaab, an Islamist organization that has been fighting to overthrow Somalia's transitional government.

"Police will allege that the men were planning to carry out a suicide terrorist attack on a defense establishment within Australia involving an armed assault with automatic weapons," Negus said. "Details of the planning indicated the alleged offenders were prepared to inflict a sustained attack on military personnel until they themselves were killed."

Holsworthy Barracks on the outskirts of Sydney was one of the group's potential targets, and surveillance had been carried out at other bases, he said, declining to identify them.

"This operation has disrupted an alleged terrorist attack that could have claimed many lives," he said.

Negus said the investigation had also found that some of the group had traveled to Somalia "to participate in hostilities" there.

All four arrested are Australian citizens of Somali or Lebanese descent and aged between 22 and 26, police said.

One of the suspects, Nayes El Sayad, was formally charged in Melbourne Magistrate's Court with conspiring to plan a terrorist attack, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. Another suspect, Saney Aweys, also appeared in court, where police sought and were granted permission to detain him longer without charge for questioning.

Neither man formally entered any plea, though Aweys told the magistrate he had no connection to the other suspects.

Federal police agent David Kinton told the court that police evidence included intercepted phone calls and text messages between the suspects.


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