Intelligence showed beheadings in Sydney were planned: Tony Abbott

Fifteen people have been arrested and one charged in counter-terrorism raids in Sydney and Brisbane. Picture: NSW Police Media
Fifteen people have been arrested and one charged in counter-terrorism raids in Sydney and Brisbane. Picture: NSW Police Media

A senior member of terrorist group Islamic State urged random public beheadings in Australia as ‘‘demonstration killings’’ in a plot that sparked the nation’s biggest-ever anti-terrorism raids.

Sydney man Omarjan Azari is in custody, charged with preparing a terrorist plan involving what police alleged was ‘‘random selection’’ of members of the public for execution.

Azari allegedly conspired with reportedly senior IS figure Mohammad Baryalei, an Afghan refugee-turned- Kings Cross bouncer and actor who is now wanted for terrorism offences.

Fourteen more people were arrested in dawn raids on a dozen suburbs across Sydney on Thursday.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who was briefed before the raids, indicated intelligence reports had shown public beheadings were urged by leaders of Islamic State, the Syria-based terror group also known as ISIL.

‘‘The exhortations, quite direct exhortations, were coming from an Australian who is apparently quite senior in ISIL, to networks of support back in Australia to conduct demonstration killings here in this country,’’ Mr Abbott said.

‘‘This is not just suspicion, this is intent.’’

Azari, 22, of Guildford, was refused bail after being charged with preparing for a terrorist act.

Baryalei appeared in an episode of the Underbelly true crime TV series before becoming a street preacher. The ABC has reported he is  a senior IS member and a key recruiter for the terror group in Syria.

Police allege Azari conspired with Baryalei in plans designed to ‘‘shock’’ and ‘‘horrify’’ the community.

The plan involved the ‘‘random selection of persons to rather gruesomely execute’’, prosecutor Michael Allnutt told Sydney’s Central Local Court.

Azari’s defence barrister said the police case was based on a single phone call.

The raids sparked a protest organised by conservative Islamic group Hizb Ut-Tahrir in Sydney’s Lakemba on Thursday night. The organisation said the Muslim community was ‘‘squarely the target of these raids’’.

Police warned they would be monitoring the protest after NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione announced a new Operation Hammerhead would commit 220 officers to patrol trouble spots ‘‘where potentially people may want to either take some retribution or in fact create trauma within our communities’’.

The raids involved more than 800 police executing 25 search warrants on properties and cars across Sydney.  Helicopters illuminated the houses with spotlights.

  An ornate sword, emblazoned with Arabic lettering, was removed from a house in Marsfield and police dug in the front yard of a Guildford home.

Three more raids occurred in Queensland on Thursday morning.

Police also said Thursday’s operation followed up on raids carried out a week earlier in Queensland in which two men were arrested on terrorism charges.

 Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said authorities had uncovered ‘‘disturbing’’ new information about the plans of one of the men.  

More than 800 federal and state police and ASIO agents swooped on homes across Sydney

What happened

  • They executed 25 warrants directed at 15 premises and 10 vehicles, across 12 west and north-west suburbs
  •  Suburbs are Beecroft, Bella Vista, Guildford, Merrylands, Northmead, Wentworthville, Marsfield, Westmead, Castle Hill, Revesby, Bass Hill and Regents Park
  •  Police struck before dawn, taking in helicopters, sniffer dog teams and forensic crews
  •  Fifteen people were detained
  •  One person – so far – has been charged with a terrorism offence and could face further charges
  •  NSW Police allege a group was actively preparing random attacks against members of the public
  •  Some of those detained are believed to have links with the Islamic State extremist group
  •  The raids are part of Operation Appleby, which has been running for some time
  •  60 AFP and Queensland police officers raided three premises in the southern Brisbane areas Underwood and Mount Gravatt East, and in Logan, south of Brisbane
  • Police struck before dawn
  • The raids followed two arrests at an Islamic centre in Underwood last week
  • They are described as a continuation of that operation

Source: AFP, state police

AAP