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Raids 'disrupt' terror attack (Australia)
Police say they have foiled a large scale terrorist attack, arresting 15 people after swooping on homes in Sydney and Melbourne early today.
The raids appear to have targeted suspects alleged to be involved in the potential terrorist threat involving the two cities that was announced by the federal government last week.
The Australian Federal Police has confirmed the arrests saying charges include intentionally being a member of a terrorist organisation and intentionally directing the activities of a terrorist organisation.
NSW Police Commissioner Ken Moroney said 400 federal and state officers were involved in the Sydney raids alone, and they achieved a major breakthrough.
The simultaneous raids, at 2.30am (AEDT) in both cities, resulted in six arrests in Sydney and nine in Melbourne.
Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon said the nine in Melbourne had been charged with a range of offences and would appear in court this morning.
She said the raids in both states, the largest anti-terrorism operation seen in Australia, included 23 search warrants across Melbourne's north and west.
Mrs Nixon said there was no specific target in Melbourne earmarked for a terrorist attack.
"At this stage the matters we're talking to them about were not related to threats to the (March 2006) Commonwealth Games.
Mr Moroney also said police had not identified any targets.
"We believe ... that we've disrupted a large scale operation which, had it been allowed to go through to fruition, we certainly believe would have been catastrophic," Mr Moroney told the Nine Network.
"Our investigation does not identify a specific object or item or location at this point in time," Mr Moroney said.
The Sydney raids targeted homes in south western suburbs including Wiley Park, while homes in Melbourne's suburbs of Brunswick, Coburg and Broadmeadows were raided.
Police would oppose bail for the suspects when they faced court later today, Mr Moroney said.
"They're currently being interviewed by police and my expectation is that those persons variously will appear in Sydney courts this morning," he said.
In Melbourne, lawyer Rob Stary said he would be acting for people charged in the city's northern suburbs.
The charges mainly involved membership of a proscribed terrorist organisation, he said.
"I assume it's one of the Islamist organisations that have been proscribed (by the federal government)," Mr Stary told ABC Radio National.
"It's impossible for me to say what group it is.
"One other person's been charged with directing members of a proscribed organisation, whatever that charge means - I assume it suggests that they've got some organisational role.
"They're not charged with any covert conduct - in other words they're not charged with engaging in the planning or preparation of any terrorist offence, they're simply charged with membership offences."
The raids began at about 2.30am (AEDT), Mr Stary said.
Prime Minister John Howard last week announced there was a potential terrorist threat, saying he had received intelligence indicating an attack on Australia was possible.
The threat was believed to involve people in Melbourne and Sydney, and an urgent amendment to existing anti-terrorism laws which gave police greater powers to arrest terrorist suspects as rushed through parliament as a result.
But Mr Stary said the overnight raids had nothing to do with the amendment.
Mr Moroney, however, said the amendment had been "useful" in the investigation.
Charges would be laid under federal and state laws.
Mr Stary said the raids involved some of the people targeted in counter-terrorism operations conducted by spy agency ASIO in June.
"I know ... some of those people were subject to raids," he said.
His clients planned to contest today's charges, Mr Stary said.
"Certainly that's our preliminary advice and of course ... they have a presumption of innocence," he said.
"Despite the political climate we're in at the moment they should not be assumed to be guilty."
Mr Moroney praised all the officers involved in the investigation.
"I congratulate the various law enforcement agencies on a very long and sustained investigation with a very focused outcome," he said.
"Never argue with idiots. They will bring you down to their level and beat you with experience."