Australia nabs 5 for planning to fight in Syria

SYDNEY • Five men with cancelled passports were yesterday accused of planning to sail to Indonesia from Australia, en route to joining extremist groups in Syria.

The men included notorious Australian Islamic preacher Musa Cerantonio, who was detained in the Philippines in 2014 and deported for reportedly urging people to join the fight in Iraq and Syria, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

They bought a 7m boat and travelled 2,840km in it from Melbourne north to Queensland state, where they planned to set sail to Indonesia, the Australian Federal Police said.

Attorney-General George Brandis said they were arrested because they intended to "leave Australia by sea, transiting to Indonesia and, from Indonesia, seeking to reach Syria to engage in hostile acts in that country".

"The suspicion is that they were seeking to leave Australia by (the) vessel to avoid the fact that they could not travel by air because their passports had been cancelled," he was quoted as saying in an Agence France-Presse report.

The nationalities of the other men, aged between 21 and 33, were not given and they have yet to be charged. Police did not say when they were picked up but The Age newspaper reported that they were detained on Tuesday.

Australian Federal Police assistant commissioner Neil Gaughan told the Sydney Morning Herald: "The fact that they have gone all the way from Melbourne to far-north Queensland indicates that these people were extremely committed in their adventure and their attempt to leave the country."

Mr Brandis said the men were arrested at an unspecified location north of Cairns.

Canberra has been increasingly concerned about citizens fighting with extremist organisations such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, saying some 110 Australians had left the country to join such groups.

Australia has long been worried about home-grown extremism and the terrorist threat alert level has been raised to high since September 2014. It has passed a raft of national security laws, including legislation allowing for passports to be cancelled to prevent Australians from leaving the country.

At least six attacks have been foiled on Australian soil over the past 18 months, but several have taken place, including the terror-linked murder of a police employee in Sydney last October.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2016, with the headline 'Australia nabs 5 for planning to fight in Syria'. Print Edition | Subscribe