SYDNEY - Australia has launched its biggest-ever counter-terrorism operation at homes and businesses in Sydney and Brisbane. Officials say 800 heavily armed police officers have taken part in the raids, in which 15 people have been arrested so far and one formally charged.
The Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the series of anti-terror raids across Sydney and Brisbane were prompted by a senior Islamic State militant ordering "demonstration killings” in Australia.
Media reports have alleged that conspirators planned to abduct a random member of the public in Sydney, drape them in an Islamic State flag and behead them on camera.
Hundreds of police officers raided properties across two of Australia’s biggest cities, Sydney and Brisbane.
A 22-year-old Sydney man Omarjan Azari faces charges of conspiracy to prepare for a terrorist attack on Australian soil.
Prosecutors told the court the alleged offense was “clearly designed to shock, horrify and terrify the community.”
The New South Wales police commissioner Andrew Scipione says the raids succeeded in making Australia safer.
“We have people that are planning to conduct random attacks and today we have worked together to make sure that did not happen. We have, in fact, disrupted that particular attack," he said. "Our police will continue to work tirelessly to prevent any such attacks, but certainly can I stress that right now is a time for calm. We don't need to whip this up. We actually need to let people know that they are safe, and certainly from our perspective we know that the work this morning will ensure that all of those plans that may have been afoot have been thwarted."
Last week, Canberra raised its domestic terror threat level from medium to high, indicting that a terrorist attack was likely, although not imminent.
Authorities said the heightened state was in response to concerns about radicalized Australians returning from fighting with militants in Syria and Iraq.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Abbott said Canberra would send 600 troops and warplanes to join U.S.-led efforts to stop the advance of Islamic State militants in Iraq.
U.S. officials say the coalition against Islamic State now includes more than 40 countries, however President Barack Obama has said U.S. troops will not fight in combat operations on the ground.