Police foil Melbourne New Year’s Eve ‘terror plot’

Authorities in Melbourne have arrested a 20-year-old Australian citizen, who they allege was planning to launch an attack during New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Police arrested the man — a Muslim born to Somali parents — after he attempted to purchase an automatic rifle.

Read more:Australia to hold nationwide gun amnesty amid terror fears

The man, who was not named, had downloaded instructions from an al-Qaida-linked website on how to launch a terrorist attack and how to use firearms, according to Victoria State Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton (photo, left).

Federation Square in Melbourne (picture-alliance/CITYPRESS24)

Federation Square sits at the heart of Melbourne and has been targeted before

“What we will be alleging is that he was intending to use a firearm to shoot and kill as many people as he could in the Federation Square area on New Year’s Eve,” Patton said Tuesday. 

Thousands of people celebrate each year at the square in Australia’s second most-populous city.

“It is a tremendous concern to us that [during] the festive season, when people are out enjoying themselves, that there is a potential plot to commit a terrorist act.”

Patton said the arrest meant the threat “has been removed.”

Read more: Panicked Australians jump from plane after bomb scare

Monitored by police

Counterterrorism police had been monitoring the man for some time. He was allegedly a known extremist and a sympathizer of the “Islamic State” (IS) group. Police acted when he met with people in an unsuccessful attempt to procure a gun.

Gun ownership is strictly controlled in Australia, and automatic weapons are banned from private ownership.

“This is a person who would become particularly energized … when overseas events occurred and would express a great deal of interest in committing an attack himself,” Patton told public broadcaster ABC.

The man’s father briefly spoke to media outside the family home, denying his son had intentions to harm anyone.

The man will likely appear in a Melbourne court late on Tuesday or Wednesday on charges of preparing to commit a terrorist attack and collecting documents to facilitate a terrorist act. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

A popular target

A year ago, police foiled a plot to attack the same popular area on Christmas Day, arresting several men who planned to use explosives, knives and guns to target the location.

Read more: Police thwart Christmas Day bomb plot in Melbourne

Police have arrested 74 people in 31 counterterrorism investigations since the country’s terrorism threat level was elevated to “probable” in September 2014. According to police, they have prevented 13 attacks in the past few years, including an IS-directed plot to attack a plane using poisonous gas or a crude bomb disguised as a meat mincer.

aw/cmk (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)