MELBOURNE (AFP, REUTERS) - An Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) sympathiser planned to buy a gun and kill as many revellers as possible on New Year's Eve in Melbourne's popular Federation Square, police alleged on Tuesday (Nov 28) after foiling the plot.
The 20-year-old, an Australian citizen with Somalian parents, was detained in a raid on a house in the Melbourne suburb of Werribee on Monday. He is expected to be charged over the coming days.
Police claim he accessed a guide book online produced by Al-Qaeda on how to commit terror acts and use firearms, but was arrested before he could purchase an automatic rifle.
"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," said Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton.
"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. That is a huge issue for us but that is why we put the resources in."
He said the arrest meant the threat "has been removed".
Federation Square is in the heart of the city, opposite busy Flinders Street train station and St Paul's Cathedral. It is one of the most popular places to see in the new year and would be packed on Dec 31.
The foiled plot comes a year after police prevented another attack in the same area on Christmas Day, arresting several men who planned to use explosives, knives and guns to target the location.
Patton said the man, who lived with his parents, had been on their radar since the beginning of the year, part of a small community of extremists that police have been monitoring.
His behaviour had gradually escalated over time, but police believe he was acting alone.
"The potential of the attack was catastrophic," said Patton, adding that the man was an "Islamic State sympathiser".
Asked if he had been inspired by last year's Christmas Day plot, Patton said detectives were still investigating how he became radicalised.
"We will be exploring where this person of interest got the idea from," he said.
"Certainly, he becomes particularly energised when he sees other activities in the terrorist arena occurring." The man worked part-time at a computer repair business, with police raiding the facility.
A person who knows the suspect told the Melbourne Herald Sun: "He is a very quiet guy. This is an absolute shock."
Justice Minister Michael Keenan said the fact that the Christmas and New Year period was being targeted again "reminds us of the depravity of terrorists".
"They seek to strike fear in the community when Australians are enjoying time over the Christmas period with their families and friends," he said, adding that there would be high-profile policing over the holiday period.
Officials in Australia, a staunch US ally that sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, have grown increasingly concerned over the threat of attacks by home-grown militants returning from fighting in the Middle East or their supporters.
Australia raised the national terror alert level to "probable" in September 2014.
Since then, 74 people have been arrested in 347 counter-terror investigations.
Authorities say 14 attacks have now been prevented in the past few years - including an attempt, directed by ISIS, to bring down a plane using poisonous gas or a crude bomb disguised as a meat mincer.
Despite this, several attacks have taken place.
A gunman in a 2014 Sydney cafe siege, where two hostages were killed, boasted about links with ISIS militants although no direct ties with the group were established. The shooting murder of a police accountant by a 15-year old boy in 2016 was claimed by ISIS.