Sydney: Islamic terror plot to attack police stations and churches

  • Two men are accused of plotting attacks on targets including police stations
  • Arrested after investigation into alleged ISIS supporters in western Sydney
  • Isaak el Matari, 20, who previously ‘tried to fight for ISIS in Syria’, is one of them
  • Third man detained on unrelated fraud charges, but is known to the other men

A terror plot to attack police stations and churches in Sydney has been foiled with the arrest of two alleged ISIS members.

Isaak el Matari, 20, and a 23-year-old associate were arrested by counter-terrorism police in raids across the city’s west and southwest on Tuesday.

Both will later be charged with being members of a terrorist organisation and Matari with allegedly plotting a terrorist attack.

Matari, who was last year arrested in Lebanon accused of planning to join ISIS in Syria, will also be charged over alleged plans to fight in Afghanistan.

Isaak el Matari, 20, (pictured) and a 23-year-old associate were arrested by counter-terrorism police in raids across the city's west and southwest on Tuesday

Isaak el Matari, 20, (pictured) and a 23-year-old associate were arrested by counter-terrorism police in raids across the city’s west and southwest on Tuesday

Originally from Blacktown in Sydney’s west, Matari was educated at the Australian Islamic College and prayed at Rooty Hill Mosque

AFP Assistant Commissioner Ian McCartney said the alleged plot to attack ‘landmarks’ in the Sydney CBD was still in its early stages.

‘We will say that they had a number of targets, including police stations, defence establishments, embassies and councils, courts and churches,’ he said.

‘[There were] discussions around locations, discussions around importing firearms and explosives to carry out those attacks… they were starting to reach out to people overseas.

‘We will also allege [Matari] had indicated he was willing to travel to Afghanistan to fight for Islamic State, and he made a number of preparations to do so.’

A third man, aged 30, known to the other two men, but not involved in the alleged plot, was arrested in the raids over alleged Centrelink fraud.

Matari was arrested after police raided his home in Greenacre (pictured) along with five other locations on Tuesday morning

Matari was arrested after police raided his home in Greenacre (pictured) along with five other locations on Tuesday morning

NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Mick Willing said the two alleged terrorists met each other online and communicated by WhatsApp and Telegram, among other platforms.

‘These men knew each other via social media and being online, sharing a like-minded philosophy,’ he said.

‘That philosophy drove them to come together and to form a relationship that we are alleging underpinned some of the charges they’re facing today.’

The 23-year-old was also allegedly ‘prominent in the global online extremist community’.

Assistant Commissioner Willing said police believed the alleged plot was contained to the two men arrested.

‘We have a number of associates in Sydney but we are satisfied the people we have arrested today are the people we need to arrest,’ he said.

‘Where alleging the plot planned in Australia was planned and focused on Sydney and not other states in Australia.’

A woman wearing full Islamic dress leaves Matari's home in Greenacre as police search it

A woman wearing full Islamic dress leaves Matari’s home in Greenacre as police search it

He said police discovered the alleged plot after Matari was deported back to Australia from Lebanon last year and was immediately put under surveillance.

‘Before he travelled overseas to Lebanese, he wasn’t of interest to Australian authorities… we had concern once he returned to Australia. Movements have been monitored since he returned to Australia,’ he said.

Matari spent about a year in the notorious Roumieh prison in Beirut after he was arrested by Lebanese authorities on August 31, 2017.

At the time of his arrest, Lebanon claimed he was just two days away from crossing the border into Syria to link up with ISIS fighters.

Court documents show that during interrogation, Matari claimed he was encouraged to join ISIS in Syria by a Sydney charity.

Originally from Blacktown in Sydney’s west, he was educated at the Australian Islamic College and prayed at Rooty Hill Mosque.

Lebanese authorities claim he became radicalised in Australia after watching ISIS videos online.

In the month of his arrest, Matari posted a photo of himself wearing Islamic clothing and squatting next to a sheep which had its throat cut.

According to the Lebanese court dossier, he was accused of downloading how to make bombs and videos of ISIS assassinations from the internet.

The ISF alleged Matari contacted an ISIS cadre in Syria and was willing to ‘carry out a suicide or explosive operation in Lebanon’.

Assistant Commissioner McCartney said Matari took several steps, such as obtaining visas and buying plane tickets, towards travelling to Afghanistan to fight with ISIS there.

‘He had planned to purchase a firearm when he arrived in Afghanistan and through these activities he swore allegiance to Islamic State and he would carry out activities for Islamic State when he went overseas,’ he said.

He said it was not clear whether Matari planned to head to Afghanistan after the Sydney attacks, or if the two plans were developing as different options.

Assistant Commissioner Willing said police pounced on the pair after a year-long investigation as soon as they had enough evidence.

‘We do go early on some of these matters as well when we think there is sufficient evidence,’ he said.

‘It is better to err on the side of public safety in some of these investigations than to let some of them go on, and we’ve made that decision today, but it has been complex and it’s taken a lot of resources.’

Assistant Commissioner Willing said the alleged plot was the 16th police had foiled since the terror threat level was raised in 2014.

‘There are people out there who still want to commit acts of terror in this country, sadly, but we’re doing everything we can to prevent those acts of terrorism taking place and public safety is always our first priority,’ he said.

‘The online environment provides fast and easy access to information and, unfortunately, those benefits are also being exploited by extremists, who use digital technologies to exist ‘virtually’ if their physical existence is under threat,’

NSW Police carried out six raids in western and southwest Sydney on Tuesday morning in Toongabbie, Greenacre (pictured), Canada Bay, Chester Hill and Ingleburn

NSW Police carried out six raids in western and southwest Sydney on Tuesday morning in Toongabbie, Greenacre (pictured), Canada Bay, Chester Hill and Ingleburn

NSW Police carried out six raids in western and southwest Sydney on Tuesday morning in Toongabbie, Greenacre, Canada Bay, Chester Hill and Ingleburn.

The three arrested men were taken to Bankstown Police Station and are expected to be charged later on Tuesday.

Police said the arrests followed an investigation ‘targeting a group of people alleged to support the Islamic State terrorist organisation’.

‘There is no immediate threat to the safety of community as a result of this activity,’ they said.

The Joint Counter Terrorism Team, which comprises both NSW and Australian Federal Police officers, is investigating and carried out the raids.

Update:

Terror suspect Ishaq Ul Matari was part of a deradicalisation program after he was returned from Lebanon ‼️

Ishaq Ul Matari, 20, arrested on Tuesday over an alleged Islamic State-inspired plot to attack police stations and churches in Sydney’s CBD was part of a deradicalisation program after being returned to Australia from Lebanon in June last year.

Mark Morri, Nick Hansen & Campbell Gellie, The Daily Telegraph.
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July 2, 2019 10:40pm

Police smash alleged terror plot in multiple raids
A young Sydney man who authorities attempted to deradicalise has been arrested over an alleged Islamic State-inspired plot to attack several targets including police stations, the US consulate, the NSW Supreme Court and churches in Sydney’s CBD.

Federal and NSW Counter-Terrorism Police swooped early on Tuesday morning after 20-year-old Ishaq Ul Matari, from Western Sydney, allegedly attempted to bring forward plans to travel to Afghanistan and pledge allegiance to the barbaric jihadis.

Ishaq Ul Matari, 20, was allegedly attempting to bring forward plans to travel to Afghanistan and pledge allegiance with Islamic State. Picture: Facebook

Ishaq Ul Matari, from Western Sydney, was arrested with two other men in terror raids on Tuesday morning. Picture: Facebook

The Daily Telegraph can reveal Ul Matari was part of a deradicalisation program authorities are reluctant to talk about after being deported back to Australia from Lebanon in June last year.

Authorities allegedly monitored him using his computer to search the dark web for information about importing firearms or explosives into Australia. It is believed he wanted to carry out the high-profile attacks before leaving for Afghanistan. The Western Sydney University student had bought a ticket to Afghanistan and applied for a visa.

A combined National Police Operation has foiled an alleged terror plot in Sydney. Picture: John Grainger
Police claim Ul Matari had also attempted to source a firearm in Afghanistan where he would fight for IS. Australian Federal Police said on Tuesday he had been under constant surveillance since arriving back in Australia.

“It will be alleged in court that the man had made early-stage preparations and had expressed an intention to carry out a terrorist attack in Australia. The man allegedly indicated a range of targets, which included prominent Sydney landmarks and locations, but had not selected a specific target or time to do,’’ police said.

Radwan Dakkak, a suspected terrorist was arrested in Toongabbie on Tuesday.
Teams of police spent most of on Tuesday searching six homes linked to the three men across Western Sydney in Greenacre, Toongabbie, Chester Hill, Ingleburn, Green Valley and Canada Bay as officers looked for weapons and explosives.

“Although we had no evidence anyone had acquired anything like that we had to make sure. We also took possession of a number of electronic devices,’’ a police source said.

Matari and an associate, Radwan Dakkak, 23, from Toongabbie, will face charges of being a member of a terrorist organisation — IS.

“It will be alleged in court that both men identified as members of Islamic State to other like-minded people. It will also be alleged the Toongabbie man was prominent in the global online extremist community,’’ police said.

Ahmed Teyba, 30, of Chester Hill, will be charged with obtaining a financial benefit by deception, namely fraudulently claiming Commonwealth unemployment benefits.

Terror raids across Sydney resulted in the arrest of three men on Tuesday. Picture: AFP
Police said it will be alleged in court that Dakkak was prominent in the global online extremist community. “The three men communicated on social media,’’ said NSW Police Counter Terrorism and Special Tactics Commander, Assistant Commissioner Mick Willing, who added they were using a number of different sites.

At Ul Matari’s house in Chiswick Rd, Greenacre, forensic police draped a tarpaulin across the front of the property as they rummaged through the small, cluttered townhouse.

A father living a few doors away, who said he had moved to Australia from Lebanon, was furious to hear the allegations against the arrested men. “We are all families here in this complex, we know each other,” he said. “We’re here in Australia to look after this country, not drag this country down.”

A map showing the terror raids across Sydney on Tuesday.
NSW and Australian Federal Police turned Dakkak’s Toongabbie home upside down after raiding the house at dawn on Tuesday. The property has garbage along the driveway, cars stretching out from the garage to the street and stagnant dirty water in the pool.

Graeme and Pat Banks have lived next door to the family for about 20 years, and Mr Banks said he had watched him grow up. “He was the one I spoke to the most out of the whole family and he was lovely,” he said.

Two other neighbours, who didn’t want to be identified, said they couldn’t believe Dakkak had been arrested but one said had transformed after going to Lakemba Mosque. “He was always the lovely one … he changed after he started going to the mosque,” one said.

— Additional reporting by Dominica Sanda

SECRETIVE PROGRAM FAILS TEST
Western Sydney University student Ishaq Ul Matari had been targeted as part of the hush hush Countering Violent Extremism program, The Daily Telegraph can reveal.

The Commonwealth has tipped in more than $53 million to counter violent extremism over the past six years but the battle to win back the hearts and minds of foreign fighters — or alleged wannabes like Ishaq Ul Matari — comes down to families, communities and religious groups.

Police remove items from residences during the raids. Picture: AFP
But one of his mentors at the university, criminologist and former cop Michael Kennedy, on Tuesday said if his involvement in the program was true “it was so subtle (Ul Matari) probably didn’t notice it”. Dr Kennedy said he had just tried to steer his “terrific” student Ul Matari down the right path and knew nothing about any official deradicalisation.

And Deakin University terror expert Greg Barton said it was no good going in all guns blazing, which is why details of the programs were kept fairly quiet.

Police with evidence bags at an address in Chiswick Road, Greenacre. Picture: John Grainger
He said they had worked for some of the foreign fighters who had returned to Australia. “The fact it is not 100 per cent successful doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try,” he said.

He said the idea was to disengage them from their social networks and replace it with something positive. He said Victoria had a more structured program than NSW, where a police liaison person was likely to act like a case manager. “They try to involve family, friends and where it is appropriate religious teachers, putting together a team that can help,” Prof Barton said.

Police pictured with an evidence bag at Toongabbie. Picture: Damian Shaw
Ul Matari was deported back to Australia from Lebanon in June last year.

There is also a National Disruption Group (NDG), led by the AFP, which co-ordinates federal departments and agencies as well as state and territory police to “co-ordinate operational disruption activities targeted at countering threats posed by so-called foreign fighters”.

The NDG’s Diversion Team is focused on alternatives to prosecution and ‘acts as the conduit’ between federal authorities and the state-led intervention programs.

Three men have been arrested. Picture: John Grainger
With Home Affairs warning there are about 100 Australians still involved in the Syria and Iraq conflicts who may pose a threat when they return, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton on Tuesday got the Coalition’s backing to introduce new national security laws to parliament to restrict which fighters are allowed home.

“We need to make sure that we’ve got every tool available to us to keep Australians safe,” Mr Dutton said.

— Janet Fife-Yeomans & Mark Morri

JIHADIS FLEEING ISLAMIC STATE ‘A GLOBAL THREAT’
Thousands of jihadis fleeing Islamic State territories will continue to “pose a significant global threat for years to come”, a report by Australia’s national security watchdog warns.

The Senate report drafted by the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor last December warned many of the 7500 fighters from western countries were returning home.

“ISIL’s loss of territory has also re-cast the threat picture associ­ated with foreign fighters,” the report said. “Estimates vary but various figures suggest over 40,000 foreign fighters, including around 7500 from Western countries, joined the fight.”

— Jack Houghton

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