Mistake that exposed ‘terrorist’ plot
THREE men, charged with allegedly planning a deadly terror attack in Melbourne, had been under investigation for almost two years when police swooped in on their homes early yesterday morning.
Victoria Police said they started watching Ertunc Eriklioglu, 30, of Dallas, Samed Eriklioglu, 26, of Campbellfield, and Hanifi Halis, 21, of Greenvale in early 2017.
It's alleged the three men were ramped up their plans for a terrorism attack in March - a plot which police said was going to target a crowded area with an intent to "kill as many people as possible".
While police frantically worked to gather enough evidence to lay charges, the men allegedly used encrypted messaging apps to keep their plans secret.
But earlier this month, when Somali-born Hassan Khalif Shire Ali terrorised Bourke St by allegedly setting his car on fire and stabbing three innocent bystanders, police allege the three Melbourne men became "energised".
Counter-terrorism agents allege the three men then began chatting to someone on the black market about buying a semiautomatic .22 rifle.
After almost nine months of investigation - and weeks out from the crowded Christmas and New Years period - it was the men's alleged attempt to buy the rifle that gave them the green light to swoop in.
Agents from the joint-counter terrorism team raided the three Melbourne homes around 3am yesterday, arresting the three Australian men.
Victoria Police yesterday confirmed two of the men were brothers and all three of their Australian passports were cancelled earlier this year.
"It's our view that, while a specific location had not been finalised, there was a view towards a crowded place, a place where maximum people would be attending, to be able to kill, we allege, as maximum an amount of people as possible," Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton said.
"I believe, over more recent days, attempts have been made to source a semiautomatic rifle to assist with the carrying out of that terrorism event."
The ability of counter-terrorism agents to monitor the black market led to the arrest of the three men - but Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said more can be done to monitor potential threats.
Mr Dutton said he has been in touch with ASIO and AFP officials, who claim "something like nine in ten of their high profile terrorism cases are being hampered because of encrypted messages".
Mr Dutton applauded the counter-terrorism team for pulling off the complex investigation but admitted they would've pulled off their alleged attack if they kept their plans limited to encrypted communication.
"I have absolutely nothing but praise for the work that the officers have done again in relation to this matter," he said.
"But if they were relying on the exchange of information over their smart devices, that wouldn't have foiled this attack, this attempted terrorist incident.
"This is a very serious issue. And we need to be very honest about it."
Counter-terror Command Assistant Commissioner Ross Guenther said agents now face months of trawling through information and recordings to identify details about the plot.
"This is really just the start of the investigation from the joint counter- terrorism team. They have many, many hours ahead of them in terms of this investigation," he said.
The trio returns to court in April.