Australia Thwarts Alleged Etihad Bomb Plot

  • Suspects failed to smuggle device onto flight on July 15
  • Police says suspects were building device to leak chemicals

Police collect evidence outside a house in the inner Sydney suburb of Surry Hills on July 30, after it was raided in a major joint counter-terrorism operation.

Photographer: William West/AFP via Getty Images

Australian police say they thwarted one of the most sophisticated terrorism plots the nation has ever faced after two men allegedly attempted to smuggle a homemade bomb onto a Etihad Airways PJSC flight and then tried to turn it into a device to disperse chemicals.

The suspects, aged 49 and 32, face life in prison if found guilty of terrorism charges.

Authorities allege they tried to take an improvised explosive device, made with military-grade explosives provided by Islamic State, onto the flight from Sydney on July 15, but didn’t get through check-in. When that plot failed, officers allege the men took the bomb apart and began turning it into a device that could disperse chemicals.

The explosives, which originated in Turkey, were allegedly sent to Australia on a cargo flight and Islamic State also provided instructions to build the second device, police said.

“This is one of the most sophisticated plots that has ever been attempted on Australian soil,” Australian Federal Police Deputy Commissioner Michael Phelan told reporters Friday. “We could very well have had a catastrophic event.”

The men were detained along with two others when counter-terrorism police raided several Sydney suburbs on Saturday. The alleged plot prompted authorities to tighten security at all major international and domestic terminals across Australia. The case was briefly mentioned in a Sydney court Friday and was adjourned until Nov. 14, with no application for bail, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

‘Fairly Well Advanced’

A 50-year-old man was released from custody earlier this week and another man remains in custody without being charged.

Deputy Commissioner Phelan said the homemade bomb was “fairly well advanced but not enough to be a fully initiated device.” It didn’t get through check-in, possibly because the baggage was too heavy, or possibly because the suspects backed out at the last moment, Phelan said.

The Sydney Morning Herald said one of the suspects had escorted his unwitting brother to Sydney Airport to board an Etihad flight to Abu Dhabi with luggage containing the bomb. The suspect allegedly took the bomb home after they failed to check it in, and the brother, who was unaware of the plot, boarded the flight as planned.

After the IED attempt failed, one of the men received instructions to instead create a chemical device, Phelan said. An overseas Islamic State controller suggested crowded spaces such as public transport could be potential targets, he said. The men were a long way from having a “functioning chemical dispersal device” and the plot was completely disrupted.

Australia is a key ally of the U.S. and has flown combat missions against Islamic State in Syria. Australian intelligence services have disrupted or stopped at least a dozen major terrorism plots since 2014, including one last year that would have seen a bomb detonated in central Melbourne, according to the government.

In December 2014, two hostages and a gunman who’d claimed allegiance to Islamic State died after a siege in a Sydney cafe.

Etihad Airways said it had worked closely with Australian police during the investigation, and implemented “the most stringent security measures throughout all of our ‎operations worldwide."

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