‘Target Was Etihad Flight To Abu Dhabi With 500 Passengers And Crew On Board’
Two of the three Muslim terrorists arrested over a plot to blow up 500 passengers on a Sydney flight have been charged and are facing life behind bars. Khaled and Mahmoud Khayat will each face multiple counts of terrorism-related charges, while a third man, Khaled Merhi, remains in police custody for the time being.
‘A 49-year-old Lakemba man and a 32-year-old Punchbowl man have also each been charged with two counts of acts done in preparation for, or planning, a terrorist act,’ Australian Federal Police said in a statement on Thursday.
A fourth man, Abdul Merhi, 50, was released without charge on Monday night. He is held under special anti-terror laws, while police investigations continue. He can be detained until the weekend under the current ruling.
The charges come after it was revealed the alleged plot was thwarted at the last minute by staff at Sydney Airport’s check-in desk because a bag allegedly containing a bomb was too heavy to carry on board.
Neither the passenger or the bag ever made its way onto the passenger jet, which is believed to have been an Etihad Airways flight leaving Sydney for Abu Dhabi. Reports suggest the alleged terror cell planned to use a ‘sacrificial lamb’ to carry and detonate the bomb when on board the 500 seat passenger jet. ‘The person was going to be blown up without knowing they were part of a suicide mission,’ a source told The Daily Telegraph.
News of the charges comes as fresh details about how close the would-be bomberscame to carrying out their alleged mission have been revealed. It’s been reported that an unwitting passenger could have been used to smuggle the bomb on board “without knowing they were part of a suicide mission”. Fairfax claims the device made it to Sydney airport’s check-in area but the passenger was “queried about the weight of the luggage at the check-in counter and learnt it was too heavy”.
Six addresses across Sydney have been searched this week including in the suburbs of Lakemba, Punchbowl (two locations), Surry Hills, Wiley Park and Bankstown.On Thursday the Director-General of Security lowered the terror threat for flying which includes a return to normal check in times.
Transport Minister Darren Chester said in a statement travellers will see things return to normal over the next 24 hours.
“Nevertheless, as a precaution, some of the additional security measures will stay in place. Some of these measures will be obvious, some will not, but Australians should remain reassured that public safety is the absolute priority.
Passenger screening and plainclothes officers on flight will remain in place as extra security. Members of the community are advised to report suspicious activity to the National Security Hotline on 1800 123 400.
“The evidence gathered is very strong,” NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said earlier today. “I think in the coming days, as this matter progresses, in my opinion people will be charged. “[When] the facts are tendered, you will understand about the police operation more holistically.” Police remain at the various locations across Sydney and were today still sifting through items.
Yesterday, two cars were towed from the raided street in Surry Hills. “NSW police have some of the strongest state terrorism powers and when you put that with the Commonwealth powers it means that when we go to protect the community, it gives us an opportunity to make sure we gather all the necessary evidence,” Mr Fuller said.
Investigators are now looking closely at the background and associations of those involved, who were little more than a blip on the terrorism radar before last week. Khaled and Abdul Merhi are understood to be related to Ahmed Merhi, who was once viewed as an active recruiter for IS in Syria, where he has been based since 2014. However Abdul Merhi’s lawyer, Moustafa Kheir, said it was “unfathomable” his client would be associated with such a terrorist plot.
“A lot of information was divulged, including his identity,” he said on Wednesday. “That’s caused a lot of damage to him. We want to review all the information police had and what basis they had to do what they did.” Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways, the group’s alleged target, issued a statement on Tuesday saying it was helping police with the investigation.