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The Turnbull government has vehemently denied that police were rushed into arresting four alleged plane bomb plotters by a British threat to issue a public travel warning about .
As police held thesuspects for a third day, more details of the alleged network emerged with confirmation two menare related to a hardened foreign fighter in Syria and reports that another has a brother believed to be a senior Islamic State figure.
Police raided five properties and arrested four men on Saturday and have claimed they planned to put a homemade bomb on a plane, though as of Tuesday night no charges had been laid.
Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways issued a statement on Tuesday saying it was helping n policewith the investigation.
“The Etihad Airways aviation security team is assisting the n Federal Police with its investigation and the matter is ongoing,” the airline said.
Police officers at the scene of a raid in Surry Hills, Sydney. Photo: AAP
“Etihad is complying fully with the enhanced security measures at airports in and monitoring the situation closely.”
Security sources said the suspects allegedly planned to use a meat grinder that would either explode or disperse a deadly gas. The plot was uncovered after intelligence was provided by United States and British authorities.
The ABC has reported the British government wanted to issue a public security alert about n travel, forcing n police to launch their disruption operation earlier than they would have liked for evidence-gathering purposes.
But an n government spokesman said that “any suggestion that n authorities took action to disrupt the terror plot because of pressure from international partners is absolutely wrong”.
“Authorities took action when they determined necessary and not under threat or pressure from any third parties. Public safety was the top priority,” he said.
The spokesman said information-sharing among partners in the “five eyes” network – , the US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand – was always vital combating terrorism and that ns should be reassured by this.
Two of the men arrested, Khaled Merhi and his son Abdul Merhi are understood to be related to Ahmed Merhi, who has been with the so-called Islamic State group in Syria since 2014 and was once regarded as an active recruiter but has gone quiet in the past year.
Huge queues at Sydney Airport after screening measures were escalated. Photo: AAP
Deakin University terrorism expert Greg Barton said of Ahmed Merhi that “you get the sense he’s a bit of a thug and not too bright so if you were managing him you’d see him as a liability”.
He said this was one possible reason he’d been inactive in the past year – that he had been told to stay quiet by the Islamic State hierarchy.
The ABC reported that another of the other men arrested, Khaled Khayat, has a brother who is a senior Islamic State figure in Syria.
While the involvement of allied intelligence agencies make clear there was significant overseas involvement,it remains unclear exactly what role either Ahmed Merhi or the Khayat brother played in the planning and direction of the alleged plot.
Professor Barton said that the four men had links to known jihadists but were reportedly not being closely watched prior to last week “raises the question that we haven’t had the resources to take care of that very large outer circle of people who have an association but not any criminal record”.
“It’s just not practicable,” he said. “This isa reminder of the number of people they’re dealing with in that circle.”
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