Anti-terror operation in Australia ‘thwarted’ beheading plot

ABC (AU) reports: Police say a large-scale anti-terrorism raid in Sydney this morning has foiled a plot to “commit violent acts” in Australia, including a plan to behead a member of the public.

More than 800 officers launched the raids as part of Operation Appleby in suburbs across Sydney’s west and north-west, with a further 70 police involved in raids on properties in Brisbane’s south.

Police said 15 people had been detained in Sydney as part of the operation between NSW officers, the Australian Federal Police and ASIO.

Court documents are expected to reveal that the raids, at 25 different properties, were aimed at a cell which planned to behead a member of the public in Sydney.

The documents are expected to say that the plan involved snatching a random member of the public in Sydney, draping them in an Islamic State group (IS) flag and beheading them on camera. [Continue reading...]

There is a ruthless logic in terrorism: it always aims to produce the maximum effect from the minimum amount of resources.

At a time when increased security measures have made international plots aimed at bombing or hijacking aircraft especially difficult, it is easy to see why beheading is becoming the preferred technique through which an organization such as ISIS can terrorize its enemies.

No need for any expertise or hard-to-acquire materials — all that is required is a knife, a camera, a YouTube account, and someone willing to murder a helpless victim.

Up until recently, we might have imagined that executioners of this kind would be hard to find, but unfortunately we are learning otherwise.

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U.S. mobilizes allies to widen assault on ISIS

The New York Times reports: The United States has begun to mobilize a broad coalition of allies behind potential American military action in Syria and is moving toward expanded airstrikes in northern Iraq, administration officials said on Tuesday.

President Obama, the officials said, was broadening his campaign against the Sunni militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and nearing a decision to authorize airstrikes and airdrops of food and water around the northern Iraqi town of Amerli, home to members of Iraq’s Turkmen minority. The town of 12,000 has been under siege for more than two months by the militants.

“Rooting out a cancer like ISIL won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick,” Mr. Obama said in a speech on Tuesday to the American Legion in Charlotte, N.C., using an alternative name for ISIS. He said that the United States was building a coalition to “take the fight to these barbaric terrorists,” and that the militants would be “no match” for a united international community.

Administration officials characterized the dangers facing the Turkmen, who are Shiite Muslims considered infidels by ISIS, as similar to the threat faced by thousands of Yazidis, who were driven to Mount Sinjar in Iraq after attacks by the militants. The United Nations special representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, said in a statement three days ago that the situation in Amerli “demands immediate action to prevent the possible massacre of its citizens.”

As Mr. Obama considered new strikes, the White House began its diplomatic campaign to enlist allies and neighbors in the region to increase their support for Syria’s moderate opposition and, in some cases, to provide support for possible American military operations. The countries likely to be enlisted include Australia, Britain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, officials said. [Continue reading...]

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Australians killed in U.S. drone strike in Yemen

The Australian reports: Two Australian citizens have been killed in a US airstrike in Yemen in what is the first known example of Australian extremists dying as a result of Washington’s highly controversial use of predator drones.

The Australian has been told the two men, believed to be in their 20s, were killed in a Predator drone strike on five al-Qa’ida militants travelling in a convoy of cars in Hadramout, in eastern Yemen, on November 19.

The men were Christopher Harvard of Townsville and a New Zealand dual citizen who went by the name “Muslim bin John” and fought under the alias “Abu ­Suhaib al-Australi.”

The Australian government, which insists it was given no ­advance warning of the strike, has positively identified the remains of the men using DNA analysis, with samples taken from families of the two men.

It is understood at least one of the men, Harvard, was buried in Yemen, possibly as recently as last week, following prolonged discussions with his family, which hoped to repatriate his remains.

A senior counter-terrorism source told The Australian the men were “foot soldiers” for al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qa’ida’s regional franchise based in Yemen.

It is understood US authorities notified Australian officials about the possibility Australian citizens might have been “collateral damage” in the strike, part of an ongoing campaign by the US and Yemeni governments to wipe out AQAP militants. [Continue reading...]

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Australian spy agency offered to share data about ordinary citizens

The Guardian reports: Australia’s surveillance agency offered to share information collected about ordinary Australian citizens with its major intelligence partners, according to a secret 2008 document leaked by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The document shows the partners discussing whether or not to share “medical, legal or religious information”, and increases concern that the agency could be operating outside its legal mandate, according to the human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC.

The Australian intelligence agency, then known as the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD), indicated it could share bulk material without some of the privacy restraints imposed by other countries, such as Canada.

“DSD can share bulk, unselected, unminimised metadata as long as there is no intent to target an Australian national,” notes from an intelligence conference say. “Unintentional collection is not viewed as a significant issue.” [Continue reading...]

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NSA: Australia and U.S. used climate change conference to spy on Indonesia

The Guardian reports: Australian spy agency the Defence Signals Directorate worked alongside America’s National Security Agency in mounting a massive surveillance operation on Indonesia during the United Nations climate change conference in Bali in 2007.

The newly-elected prime minister Kevin Rudd was making his first high-profile international foray at the conference, at the personal invitation of Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

A new document from whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals the intelligence agencies were trying to collect the phone numbers of Indonesian security officials.

It was not a particularly successful mission – the only tangible outcome the NSA and the DSD could boast of for all the expenditure of time, staff and other resources was the mobile phone number of Bali’s chief of police.

But its revelation is likely to exacerbate tensions between Australia and Indonesia, which flared after Fairfax newspapers revealed last week that Australian diplomatic posts across Asia were being used to intercept phone calls and data. [Continue reading...]

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Australia does not see Iran as “rogue state”; fears Israel could trigger nuclear war

Australia’s The Age, reports

Australia’s intelligence agencies fear that Israel may launch military strikes against Iran and Tehran’s pursuit of nuclear capabilities could draw the US and Australia into a potential nuclear war in the Middle East.

Australia’s peak intelligence agency has also privately undercut the hardline stance towards Tehran of the US, Israeli and Australian governments, saying its nuclear program is intended to deter attack and it is a mistake to regard Iran as a rogue state.

The warnings about the dangers of nuclear conflict in the Middle East are given in a secret US embassy cable obtained by WikiLeaks and provided exclusively to The Age. They reflect views obtained by US intelligence liaison officers in Canberra from Australian intelligence agencies.

”The AIC’s [Australian intelligence community's] leading concerns with respect to Iran’s nuclear ambitions centre on understanding the time frame of a possible weapons capability, and working with the United States to prevent Israel from independently launching unco-ordinated military strikes against Iran,” the US embassy in Canberra reported to Washington in March last year.

”They are immediately concerned that Iran’s pursuit of nuclear capabilities would lead to a conventional war – or even nuclear exchange – in the Middle East involving the United States that would draw Australia into a conflict.”

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