Two of the three alleged terrorists have been charged after they were arrested over a plot to blow up 500 passengers on a Sydney flight.
Khaled and Mahmoud Khayat will face two counts of terrorism-related charges each , while a third man, Khaled Merhi, is still in police custody. He is held under special anti-terror laws, while police continue their investigations. Under the current, ruling he can only be detained until the weekend.
‘A 49-year-old Lakemba man and a 32-year-old Punchbowl man have each been charged with two counts of acts done in preparation for, or planning, a terrorist act,’ Australian Federal Police said in a statement on Thursday.
A fourth man, who was arrested over the alleged plot, Abdul Merhi, 50, was released without charge on Monday night.The two men charged are due to face Parramatta Court on Friday morning, and if found guilty, he could spend the rest of his life behind bars.
The charges came after it was revealed the alleged plot was thwarted at the very last minute by the staff at Sydney Airport’s check-in desk because a bag allegedly containing a bomb was too heavy to carry on board.
Neither the passenger, nor the bag ever made its way onto the passenger jet, which is believed to have been an Etihad Airways flight leaving Sydney for Abu Dhabi.
Reports suggested that the alleged terror-cell planned to use a ‘sacrificial lamb’ to carry and detonate the bomb when almost 500 passengers were on board.
‘The person was going to be blown up without knowing they were part of a suicide mission,’ a source told the media.
A Senior police officer on Thursday forewarned the charges, with NSW Police commissioner Mick Fuller describing the evidence as ‘very strong’.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull echoed his words as well.
‘Investigations have proceeded very well in terms of uncovering evidence. The police have uncovered very substantial evidence.’ he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Fuller applauded the ‘outstanding job’ of his officers amid criticism from one of the men who was arrested on Saturday but was later released without any charges against him.
‘We mobilised quickly and really from my perspective we stopped what could have been a terrible crime,’ he said.
Mr Merhi’s lawyer, Moustafa Kheir, has declared he will review ‘what basis police had to do what they did’ and said his client’s life had been ‘turned upside down’ after this incident.
Mr Fuller welcomed the scrutiny, saying he had a responsibility to protect the people of NSW. Australia’s spy agency ASIO advised that the aviation terror threat level should be lowered to ‘possible’. The threat level was raised to ‘probable’ when the plot was discovered.
‘Travellers will see progressive adjustments to airport security over the next 24 hours. This includes a return to normal arrival times at airports for check-in as advised by your airline.’ Mr Turnbull said in a statement on Thursday.