Three men have been arrested on suspicion of plotting a “mass killing” terror attack in Australia’s second biggest city, Melbourne.
Investigators believe the men, aged between 21 and 30, had been inspired by the group calling itself Islamic State. The suspects are Australian nationals of Turkish descent and had been under surveillance since March.
Police say the trio recently had their passports cancelled over fears they would travel overseas to engage in terrorism activities.Two of the men are brothers and all three have been charged with terrorist offenses.
Authorities assert that they had become "more energized" in the past week to carry out an attack, and had their plot not been disrupted the alleged “consequences would have been chilling.”
More than 200 police officers were involved in the raids in Melbourne.
“There was a view towards a crowded place where maximum people would be attending to be able to kill a maximum amount of people as possible. (We) believe over more recent days attempts have been made to source a .22 semi-automatic rifle to assist with carrying out of that terrorism event," Graham Ashton, Victoria state’s chief police commissioner told reporters.
A relative of one of the suspects denied they were violent nor inspired by radical Islam.
The counter-terrorism raids came as thousands of people prepared to attend a state funeral for a restaurant owner who was stabbed by an Islamic State-inspired attacker in Melbourne on November 9. The suspect died after being shot by police.
Earlier this month, three men were found guilty of conspiring to carry out a terror attack in Melbourne during Christmas festivities in 2016.
Federal agencies say 90 people have been charged in connection with 40 counter-terrorism investigations across Australia since September 2014.
The national terror threat level remains at ‘probable.’