By Mike Corder
Tuesday, November 8, 2005
SYDNEY, Nov. 8 -- Police in Australia arrested 17 terrorism suspects in raids early Tuesday and said they had foiled a major attack.
The Australian Federal Police said the men were arrested in Sydney and Melbourne in the coordinated raids, which also netted evidence including weapons, computers, backpacks and apparent bomb-making materials.
New South Wales Police Commissioner Ken Moroney said 400 officers participated in raids in Sydney.
"I'm satisfied that we have disrupted what I would regard as the final stages of a large-scale terrorist attack . . . here in Australia," Moroney told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.
Police declined to give details of the likely target of the attack, but Christine Nixon, chief police commissioner for Victoria state, said that next year's Commonwealth Games, to be staged in Melbourne, were not a target.
"It's the largest operation of counterterrorism that's ever been conducted in this country and it's taken us a long period of time," Nixon told the ABC.
Police commissioner Graeme Morgan said one of the men arrested was shot and wounded by police in the raids, which followed a 16-month investigation.
Rob Stary, an attorney who said he represented eight people arrested in Melbourne, said most of his clients were charged with being members of a banned organization. The suspects were expected to appear in courts in Sydney and Melbourne later Tuesday.
Stary said one of those arrested in Melbourne was an outspoken radical Muslim cleric, Abdul Nacer Benbrika, an Algerian-Australian also known as Abu Bakr who has said he would be violating his faith if he warned his students not to join the jihad, or holy war, in Iraq.
Australia has never been hit by a major terrorist attack, but its citizens have repeatedly been targeted overseas, particularly in Indonesia.
Last year, the country's embassy in Jakarta was badly damaged by a suicide bomber, and dozens of Australians were killed in bombings in 2002 and last month on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.
Opponents of Prime Minister John Howard have said his strong support for the U.S.-led war in Iraq and his decision to send troops there and to Afghanistan, have made it inevitable that Australia would be attacked.
Last week, Howard warned that Australian authorities had received specific intelligence about an attack on the country.