MELBOURNE, (UPI) — Police in Australia arrested five men late Thursday, stopping what they believe to have been an “imminent” terrorist threat planned for Christmas Day.
The five men were captured as part of large raids Thursday to stop attacks in Melbourne that may have included knives, guns and bombs, and police say the attack was in the end stages of preparation with Christmas two days away.
“This is a significant disruption of what we would call an imminent terrorist event,” Andrew Colvin, commissioner of the Federal Police in Australia, said at a news conference. “They had moved very quickly from an intention to a capability, a developed capability, including quite progressed plans, we will allege.”
Police initially arrested seven men in Thursday night’s raids, however two were released without charges. All five of the men charged are Australian citizens, four born in Australia and the fifth born in Egypt.
The men, who do not appear to have an actual link to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, were self-radicalized online and had been scouting locations for the attacks around the center of Melbourne. Among the places police say they’d considered were Federation Square, the Flinders train station and St. Paul’s Cathedral, all of which are busy and close to each other.
Police had been monitoring the men for a long time but stepped up efforts in the last two weeks as it appeared something was going on. Officials say the men were making their final decision on targets when the raids were conducted.
“This would have been a significant attack, we believe,” Graham Ashton, chief commissioner of the Victoria Police, said at a press conference. “There’s no doubt about that.”
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