Australian authorities believe they have foiled a major terrorist attack, arresting 17 people on Tuesday during raids in the country’s two biggest cities of Sydney and Melbourne.
The arrests come less than a week after Prime Minister John Howard said Australia received intelligence about a “terrorist threat” and urgently amended anti-terror laws making it easier for police to arrest suspects.
“Intelligence was received that a group was making arrangements to stockpile chemicals and other materials capable of making explosives,” New South Wales state Premier Morris Iemma told a news conference in Sydney.
“Police believe that the group was planning a terrorist attack in Australia,” Iemma said.
Police raided 23 houses in Sydney and Melbourne early on Tuesday as part of the country’s largest ever counter-terrorism operation involving hundreds of police, following a 16-month investigation.
The Australia Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO), last week acknowledged for the first time that Australia had home-grown extremists, some of whom had received terror training overseas.
Media reports have said ASIO is believed to have concerns over up to 800 Muslims in Australia who have voiced support for politically motivated violence, while up to 80 people resident in Australia were known to have trained with militant organizations in Pakistan and Afghanistan.