CANBERRA • Travellers flying domestically and internationally from Australia's airports should be prepared to face tighter security measures, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said yesterday, after the authorities thwarted an apparent plot to "bring down an airplane".
Four men were arrested after the authorities raided five properties in Sydney on Saturday night, following a tip-off about a plot to bring down an Australian aircraft using an "improvised explosive device".
The Australian newspaper identified them as Lebanese Australians - two fathers and two sons.
Speaking to the media yesterday, Mr Turnbull said that airport security has been beefed up across the country, and warned Australians and visitors that they could face delays unless they cooperate with the new measures.
Details of the purported plot were still being investigated.
"In recent days, law enforcement has become aware of information that suggested some people in Sydney were planning to commit a terrorist act using an improvised device," Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin said at the press conference with Mr Turnbull.
"We do believe it is Islamic- inspired terrorism. Exactly what is behind this is something that we will need to investigate fully.
In recent days, law enforcement has become aware of information that suggested some people in Sydney were planning to commit a terrorist act using an improvised device. We do believe it is Islamic-inspired terrorism. Exactly what is behind this is something that we will need to investigate fully.
AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER ANDREW COLVIN
"At this time, we don't have a great deal of information on the specific attack, the location, date or time. However, we are investigating information indicating that the aviation industry was potentially a target."
Wearing gas masks and ballistic armour, and backed by fire crews and specially trained paramedics, officers from the Joint Counter Terrorism Team stormed five properties in the Sydney suburbs of Surry Hills, Lakemba, Punchbowl and Wiley Park on Saturday.
The police commissioner said four of those searches might continue for days.
The Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) said police found items that could be used to make a homemade bomb when they raided a house at Surry Hills. It is understood that the authorities believe the group was intending to smuggle the device onto a plane in order to blow it up, ABC said.
A spokesman for the Australian Federal Police told Reuters that the four men, who were arrested on Saturday, had not been charged as of yesterday afternoon.
The Daily Telegraph newspaper said the counter-terrorism authorities were yesterday applying to the Federal Court in Sydney for an extension of time to detain the four arrested men. Under Commonwealth laws, a person can be detained for up to seven days with a warrant from a Federal Court judge.
Commissioner Colvin said travellers could expect an increased police and security agency presence at airports. "You can expect longer delays to make sure that more screening is being done on baggage, both hold luggage as well as hand luggage," he said, adding that passengers should allow more time to get through security.
Qantas Airways and Virgin Australia notified passengers via text messages, social media and e-mail to expect delays, though disruptions at the nation's airports appeared to be minimal yesterday.
A spokesman for Melbourne Airport, Australia's second busiest, said it was preparing for delays during peak weekday periods.
Australia, a close ally of the United States, has been on heightened alert for attacks by home- grown militants returning from fighting in the Middle East, or their supporters, since 2014.