The suspects were arrested at properties in suburban Melbourne in the Australian state of Victoria. Four of them were Australian-born men in their 20s of a Lebanese background, while another was an Australian of Egyptian origin. Another man and a woman were detained in the raids, but have been released without charge.
Investigators said they had seized “the makings of an improvised explosive device,” adding that alleged targets included St. Paul’s Cathedral, Flinders Street railway station and other prominent locations in Melbourne, Australia’s second biggest city. Police said the alleged plot was inspired by the Islamic State militant group. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews described the conspiracy as an “act of evil,”
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said a violent terrorist conspiracy had been disrupted but warned of a rising international threat of extremism.
“We see around the world the global threat of terrorism: the truck attack in Berlin earlier this week and similar attacks – terrorist attacks – in so many other places, just in the last few weeks, including Nigeria, Yemen, Turkey, Somalia, Egypt and Jordan,” Turnbull said. “Islamist terrorism is a global challenge that affects us all, but we must not be cowed by the terrorists.”
The arrests follow a long investigation by Victoria Police, the Australian Federal Police and security agencies.
Security will be increased at prominent locations around Melbourne, including the Boxing Day cricket match between Australia and Pakistan. A crowd of around 100,000 is expected.
Australia’s official domestic terrorism threat level remains at “probable,” which indicates individuals or groups have the intent and capability to conduct an attack on home soil.