Australia: Three Muslim men of Turkish descent have been charged with terrorism offences over an alleged Islamic State-inspired terrorist plot that aimed to kill as many people as possible using semi-automatic weapons, according to local police.
Hanifi Halis, 21, and brothers Samed Eriklioglu, 26, and Ertunc Eriklioglu, 30, faced Melbourne magistrates court on Tuesday afternoon following their arrests earlier in the day during a series of raids across northern Melbourne. Each man was charged with one count of acting in preparation for, or planning of terrorist acts.
The trio was arrested after a lengthy investigation and 17,000 phone intercepts, 10,500 text messages and more than 7,800 hours of recordings from listening devices would form part of the case, a prosecutor told the court. According to local authorities, they have never been in custody before and Ertunc Eriklioglu sustained injuries during his arrest.
The Australian Federal Police assistant commissioner, Ian McCartney, said if police had not acted “early in preventing this attack, we’ll allege the consequences would have been chilling”.
The Victoria police chief commissioner, Graham Ashton, alleged that the group had not identified a final location but said they had been eyeing off a “crowded place”.
“They were trying to have a place where they could kill as many people as possible,” Ashton said. He alleged that police had seen the group become “much more energised over the past week” and determined that they had enough evidence to intervene. Investigators had been monitoring the terrorist suspects since March, he said, and they had been in the process of acquiring of a .22 semi-automatic rifle.
Two of the three men were related, police said. They are Australians of Turkish descent and had cancelled their passports in January, March and October.
McCartney said police would allege the men were radicalised “within this cell as a group”. “We’re not suggesting this has been directed by Isis,” he said. He said the three men had been communicating using encrypted apps.
The state premier, Daniel Andrews, said he was “grateful” to the 200 police officers involved in Tuesday’s operation. “The seriousness of this potential incident should not be underestimated,” he said.