‘Police have confirmed the raids relate to an alleged plot to bring down an aircraft using a device.’
Terror raids in Sydney: Police storm homes in Lakemba, Wiley Park, Punchbowl and Surry Hills
A TERRORIST plot to bring down a domestic flight with a bomb was at the centre of a series of raids across Sydney yesterday targeting an alleged Islamic extremist cell.
Wearing gas masks and ballistic armour, backed by fire crews and specially trained paramedics, officers from the Joint Counter Terrorism Team stormed three properties in Sydney’s west — at Sproule St, Lakemba, Renown Ave, Wiley Park, and Victoria Rd, Punchbowl — and a terrace on Goodlet Lne, Surry Hills, in the inner city.
The raids had been planned for several days and are understood to have been brought forward for operational reasons.
A law enforcement official said officers involved in the searches were looking for material that could be used to make an improvised explosive device or “some other method” to bring down a domestic passenger plane.
“There was a threat of a device and an aircraft,” the official said, but added that its credibility was still being determined.
Four men were taken into custody and were helping police with inquiries last night. Some media reports claimed a suspicious device needed to be removed from the Surry Hills property.
At Surry Hills, where parts of Cleveland St were shut down from 1pm to create an exclusion zone, a man shrouded under a bed sheet was escorted into an ambulance by police before being taken into custody.
As the arrest unfolded, paramedics attended to the man, who had a bandage covering his head, and a woman whose wrists had been cable-tied.
An elderly woman was also escorted from the scene by police, her head covered by a leopard-skin print jacket.
Several women wearing hijabs were also at the scene, as was a young boy.
When asked why he’d been arrested, the man said “No idea”, then added: “They bashed me.”
Neighbours described the man’s parents as a “lovely couple” who held barbecues every Sunday.
Relatives of two of the men arrested told media last night that they “love Australia”.
Neighbour Kate Harrison said: “There must have been at least 40 riot squad police with huge guns.”
Witnesses reported hearing a lot of screaming and dogs barking as police raided the property.
At Sproule St, Australian Federal Police forensic officers were seen entering a property wearing gas masks while paramedics in helmets stood on standby.
A northern section of the road was blocked off for much of the night, but neighbours were allowed to return to their homes about 10.30pm.
It is understood the men arrested were known to police and not part of a recent crop of radicalised youths quickly recruited via the internet to carry out extremist attacks.
Renown Ave, Wiley Park, was the scene of a previous anti-terror raid in 2005, codenamed Operation Pendennis. That investigation involved a conspiracy to blow up public spaces in NSW and Victoria.
Among those arrested at the time was Khaled Sharrouf, who left Australia after being released from jail to join Islamic State in Syria.
The alleged scheme at the centre of yesterday’s operation appeared to signal a move back to the more sophisticated attacks of years past involving the bombing of buildings and infrastructure, an official said.
Recently foiled plots in both NSW and Victoria have involved crude weapons such as kitchen knives and vehicles to inspire terror.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull issued a written statement saying a number of agencies had been working towards preventing and disrupting the potential for an attack.
“I have been kept closely briefed on the progress of the operations by the heads of our relevant security agencies,” he said. “However, as the operations are ongoing, it is inappropriate to provide further detail at this stage.
“These operations are designed to disrupt and prevent plans to undertake terrorist attacks in Australia.”
Cleveland St remained closed to traffic last night as crime scene officers seized evidence and took photographs as they moved through the house.
They were accompanied by Fire and Rescue NSW officers and members of NSW Police Rescue.