SYDNEY (AFP) – Australians have been told to prepare for more large-scale counter-terrorism raids as Attorney-General George Brandis revealed 73 people have had their passports cancelled to prevent them joining the Islamic State group.
Canberra in September raised its terror threat level and carried out extensive raids in Sydney and Brisbane to disrupt an alleged plot by IS supporters to abduct and behead a member of the public.
Only two people were charged despite 800 officers being involved.
Federal police Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan said similar raids were likely, but refused to comment on whether any preparations were under way.
“What we’ll see now is more raids like we saw in Sydney because the environment has changed,” he told members of Sydney’s Muslim community on an ABC television programme late Monday.
“The paradigm has changed such that we will be forced to react much quicker than what we previously have, and I think the community will see more of this where we will do a large number of execution of search warrants and probably only one or two arrests.”
On the same television show, Brandis said 73 Australians have had their passports cancelled to prevent them travelling to Iraq and Syria to fight alongside militants, as concerns mount that they could return home and commit violence.
Brandis reassured the public that those who had been stopped from getting on a plane were being closely watched. “In relation to the 73… that wouldn’t have happened if there were not grounds,” he said.
“The reason there were grounds is because they were known to authorities and the fact they are known to authorities, you should be reassured that authorities have their eyes on these people and they are not going to do harm.”
The attorney-general added that 71 Australians were currently fighting in Iraq or Syria, and confirmed earlier reports that 15 had been killed – two of them as suicide bombers.
“Every last one of those people have been recruited from within this (Muslim) community,” he said.
“The government thinks this community is being preyed upon.
“Young men are being preyed upon, they are being ensnared, cajoled by those who would recruit them with perhaps the false glamour of participating in a foreign civil war and leading them on a path to destruction.”
Australia last week passed a law criminalising travel to terror hotspots. The Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) includes measures that make it an offence to enter a “declared area” where a terrorist organisation is engaging in hostile activity, without a valid reason.