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Man Charged With Potentially ‘Catastrophic’ Australian Terror Plot

Police raid a property in the Sydney suburb of Surry Hills, Australia, July 31, 2017, in the wake of a plot again Australia's aviation sector.

Police in Australian have charged a man with planning to carry out what they described as a potentially “catastrophic" terrorist attack during New Year's Eve celebrations in Melbourne.

Authorities say the suspect, a 20-year old Australian citizen of Somali descent, allegedly planned to “shoot as many people as he could” with an automatic rifle at a New Year’s Eve party at Federation Square in the center of Melbourne -- one of the most popular locales in Australia’s second biggest city to enjoy new year festivities.

Officials believe the man, who has not been named, was acting alone and had obtained an al-Qaida manual online with instructions for carrying out such an attack. He also allegedly is a sympathizer of the Islamic State militant group.

Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton says officers had been monitoring him as a "person of interest" since January.

The man was arrested Monday as police conducted raids at his family home in suburban Melbourne and at a property belonging to a relative.

Australia’s Federal Justice Minister Michael Keenan said it was the 14th alleged plot disrupted by the nation’s security agencies and police in the past three years. Keenan said the charges were a reminder of the “depravity of the terrorists.”

Officials say the man faces life in prison if found guilty of the charges.

Seventy-four people have been charged by Australian counterterrorism police since 2014, when the nation's terror threat level was raised to “probable.”

In August, police said they had thwarted conspiracies to smuggle a bomb onto a plane at Sydney airport and another to set off a device that could release toxic gas.