It was a brazen terrorist plot. Five men allegedly planned to set sail from Australia in a small fishing boat to join Islamic State (IS) in Syria, police said on Wednesday.
A 23-foot cabin cruiser is probably not the best choice as a vessel to transport five men across the ocean for several weeks. Images of the boat's interior obtained by Australian network 7News also show just one case of bottled water packed for the trip across the high seas, from the northeastern city of Cairns to Indonesia (almost 2,000 miles). From there, the men hoped to fly to Syria, reported News Corp.
Australian police detained the five suspects on Tuesday after they had towed the boat almost 1,865 miles from Melbourne in Australia's southeast to Cairns in Queensland state, police said. Their passports had been canceled, meaning their only option for leaving Australia was by boat, reported CNN.
Federal Police Deputy Commissioner Neil Gaughan told reporters it was believed the men had bought the boat in Victoria. They had been under surveillance for "a number of weeks," he said.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation said that Melbourne-born radical preacher Musa Cerantonio, a vocal supporter of IS who was deported from the Philippines to Australia in 2014, was among those detained.
Cerantonio, who converted to Islam from Catholicism at 17, was believed to be planning to join IS when he was deported for having "invalid travel documentation." He was placed under surveillance but not arrested upon his return.
The five men have not yet been charged. Under tough new security powers passed in 2014, Australians face up to a decade in prison for overseas travel to areas declared off limits, which includes the province of Raqqa in Syria, a key strategic hub for IS militants.
Australia has come under criticism for its tough immigration policies aimed at stopping asylum seekers taking boats from Indonesia to Australia, but few are believed to have attempted the journey in the opposite direction.
"We're investigating the allegation they were planning to make their way through Indonesia to the Philippines, with a view to ending up in Syria," Victoria state Deputy Police Commissioner Shane Patton told reporters in Melbourne.
"It's not a common occurrence, I would suggest, people trying to get to Syria via boat, but I don't have the exact figures for sure."
Australia, a staunch US ally, has been on heightened alert for attacks by home-grown radicals since 2014 and authorities say they have thwarted a number of potential attacks, while there have been several "lone wolf" assaults, including a cafe siege in Sydney 17 months ago that left two hostages and the gunman dead.
Approximately 100 people have left Australia for Syria to fight alongside organizations such as IS, Australia's Immigration Minister said last month.
Police said it was unclear where the men, aged between 21 and 33, had planned to put the boat in the water. Indonesia and Australia share a maritime border, but it spans several hundred miles of open sea at its narrowest point.
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