Australian police arrested two men in Sydney who were allegedly planning to carry out a terrorist attack on Tuesday. The men were arrested with an Islamic State (IS) flag and allegedly associate themselves with the militant group.
"The type of act that we will allege was going to take place is consistent with IS messages," Deputy New South Wales Police Commissioner Cath Burn said at a press conference on Wednesday, announcing the arrests.
"This is a new paradigm for all of us," said Australian Federal Police deputy commissioner Michael Phelan. "These matters come upon us very quickly. The attack was imminent yesterday. We acted as early as we possibly could."
Omar al Kutoba, 24, and Mohammad Kiad, 25, were arrested in the Sydney suburb of Fairfield at 4:40pm on Tuesday and have been charged with preparing or planning a terrorist act. Police will allege they potentially intended to use a large knife found in their possession to commit an attack that day.
The two accused did not face court on Wednesday during their bail hearing, instead opting to remain in their cells. A legal aid lawyer represented them, and did not seek bail. The court heard that the pair have contacted a lawyer to represent them in the pending trial.
"One of the items that will be introduced into evidence is a video, and in that video, we will allege that one of the men indicated that an attack was going to be carried out," Burn said. "They are not necessarily using sophisticated methods to carry out what they intend to do."
Burn said police searched the homes of the suspects and found "a number of items," including, "a machete, a hunting knife, a homemade flag representing the prescribed terrorist organization IS, and also a video which depicted a man talking about carrying out an attack."
Both of the accused had been in Australia for only a few years. Al Kutobi moved to Australia from Iraq in 2009, becoming a citizen in 2013, and Kiad immigrated from Kuwait some four years ago and holds permanent residency.
Roberto Macatangay, their neighbour, told reporters in Sydney that the two shared a granny flat. He described them as devout Muslims who prayed five times a day.
"They seemed to be really nice," Macatangay told local media. "They were sarcastic people but I didn't mind that. We used to joke about religion, about Mohammad and Jesus Christ."
Prime Minister Tony Abbott told parliament that the country had narrowly avoided its third act of terrorist violence in six months.
"There was the attack on police officers in Victoria in September, and then we had the terrorist incident in Martin Place in December," he said. "We could easily have had a third but for strong action by NSW Police and the joint counter-terrorist team.''
In September last year an 18-year-old man, Abdul Numan Haider, was shot dead by police after he stabbed two police officers after meeting them outside a Victorian police station. Then in December, Man Haron Monis took 18 hostages during the Sydney siege, which ended with two of his captives dying during his final stand against police.
The Joint Counter Terrorism Taskforce, which investigates terror plots on Australian soil and Australians seeking to fight in Syria and Iraq, was responsible for the raid.
The arrests occurred with Australia under high terror alert. Australia's national alert was raised to "high" last September, prior to the hostage situation that unfolded in Sydney in December. Last month, Australia also raised the alert level to "high" in a separate system that gauges threats against police officers.
Burn said the arrests Tuesday represent "the nature of the environment that we currently face."
"This is indicative of the threat that we now have to live with," she said.
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