Islamic State Directed And Inspired A Terror Plot To Bomb A Plane In Australia, Say Police

Australian police said on Friday that two men have been charged with terror-related offenses involving plans to place a homemade bomb on a passenger flight leaving Sydney, and, separately, to build a device to release poisonous gas.

Australian Federal Police Deputy Commissioner National Security Michael Phelan told a news conference the plot targeted an Etihad Airways flight and was "inspired and directed" by the Islamic State militant group.

Explosives for the device were sent to Australia via air cargo from Turkey, and the bomb was assembled with assistance from an Islamic State commander, Phelan said, without identifying the person.

The device was disguised as a commercial meat mincer and taken to check-in counters at Sydney Airport on July 15. The plan was aborted and the bomb did not breach airport security.

"This is one of the most sophisticated plots that has ever been attempted on Australian soil," Phelan said.

"The explosive was a high-end explosive ... I don't want to be specific because it's still under examination for the exactness of it, but high-military-grade explosive."

Etihad had no immediate comment on Friday but said earlier this week that it was assisting the police with its investigation.

U.S. officials, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said this week that a foreign intelligence service had intercepted communications between the plotters in Sydney and Islamic State members in Syria. The officials declined to identify the foreign intelligence service.

Another U.S. official said the target of the bomb plot appeared to have been a commercial flight from Sydney to the Gulf.

Police arrested four men last weekend in raids across Sydney, Australia's biggest city. One man has been released, while another is being held without charge under special counterterror laws.

Domestic media have identified the two men who have been charged as Khaled Khayat and Mahmoud Khayat, who each face two counts of planning a terrorist act.

Phelan said that in a separate event, the same men also had tried to create an improvised chemical device designed to release poisonous hydrogen sulfide gas, although he said there was no evidence to suggest that it would have been used in a plane attack.

Australia, a staunch U.S. ally that has sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, has been on heightened alert since 2014 for attacks by homegrown militants returning from fighting in the Middle East, and their supporters. However, it has suffered relatively few domestic attacks.

A gunman in a 2014 Sydney café siege boasted about links to Islamic State militants, although no direct ties with the group were established. The gunman and two other people were killed in the siege.