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Australian government targeted as anti-terror police arrest two there
[SYDNEY] Two men have been seized in Sydney with one allegedly in possession of documents connected to a planned terrorist attack on government targets, police said Wednesday.
The arrests by counter-terror police follow a series pre-dawn raids across Sydney and Brisbane in September as concern mounts about the flow of people to Iraq and Syria to fight with the Islamic State group and other jihadists.
More than 70 Australians are currently fighting for Islamic militants overseas. At least 20 have died and there are fears that increasing numbers of youths are being radicalised and could mount attacks at home.
One of the men charged late Tuesday, a 20-year-old, was accused of being in "possession of documents designed to facilitate a terrorist attack" while a 21-year-old was accused of breaching a control order issued by a judge.
"Certainly the documents talked a little bit about potential government targets," said Australian Federal Police Deputy Commissioner for National Security Michael Phelan.
He said the targets were in Sydney, but did not go into detail.
"I am confident that we've disrupted the activity that they were planning. And that is all I'm prepared to say at this particular point." The arrests follow warnings on Tuesday by Prime Minister Tony Abbott of heightened "terrorist chatter" in the aftermath of a fatal cafe siege in Sydney's financial hub last week.
Iranian-born gunman Man Haron Monis, who had a history of extremism and violence, took 17 hostages in the city's financial heartland, unveiling an Islamic flag.
He was killed as armed police stormed the eatery after 16 hours. Two hostages also died - mother-of-three Katrina Dawson, 38, and 34-year-old Lindt cafe manager Tori Johnson - while several were injured.
"A briefing from the security agencies today indicated that there has been a heightened level of terrorist chatter in the aftermath of the Martin Place siege," Abbott said Tuesday.
"That's why it's important that people remain alert and aware as well as reassured that our police and security agencies are doing everything they humanly can to keep us safe."
Australia has not officially branded the Sydney siege as a terrorist attack and Abbott declined to speculate on any potential new threat.
Phelen said police had been monitoring a particular group of between 15 and 20 people with 11 of them charged since the September raids, some for "serious terrorism offences".
"It is a group of people here in Sydney that we've been actively monitoring for a long period of time now and any action they take we want to try to get ahead of them," he said.
Asked if they had a name, he replied: "No. Certainly their ideology is linked to IS overseas." He said they had no direct link with Monis but "certainly since the tragic events of last week, this group had ongoing conversations and activity".
Australia raised its threat level to high in September, which means an attack is likely.
At the time, Abbott said the raised threat was not prompted by a specific attack plan but a "body of evidence that points to the increased likelihood of a terrorist attack in Australia".
New South Wales Police Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn stressed people should not be afraid.
"This should not disrupt our way of life in any measure at all," she said.
"We're clearly vigilant and everybody should be vigilant. However, I think that the activity that we have undertaken has put us in a very, very good position." Following the cafe siege, security across Sydney was stepped up with hundreds more officers on the streets.