A man was arrested in counterterror raids in Australia on Tuesday, with police alleging he was sending money to a US national fighting with a “terrorist” group in Syria.
The arrest came days after a terror suspect was shot dead in Melbourne after stabbing two police officers, and amid concerns about Australians fighting alongside jihadists in Iraq and Syria.
Police said a 23-year-old man, who they did not name, was charged with intentionally making funds available to a “terrorist organisation”, knowing that it was a terrorist group. They did not name the group.
Australian Federal Police assistant commissioner Neil Gaughan said the accused had allegedly transferred about Aus$12,000 (US$10,500) to a US citizen who travelled to Syria to fight.
“We are acutely aware that to participate in overseas fighting, funds are required. In this case we will allege that the man was funding someone from the US,” Gaughan said.
“However, who is being funded makes no difference. Providing funding is equally criminal as actually travelling to participate.”
Gaughan said the arrest had been triggered by the belief that the man was allegedly preparing to send more funds.
Police stressed there was no information or intelligence to indicate the man was involved in planning an attack in Australia, or linked in any way to the suspect killed last week.
Abdul Numan Haider, 18, was shot dead as he carried out a frenzied knife attack on two policemen, one day after the Islamic State group called for Muslims to indiscriminately kill Australians.
Concern over jihadists returning
The incidents followed Australia raising its terror alert to “high” and after the government had expressed concerns about citizens who have fought alongside jihadists in Iraq and Syria returning home radicalised and capable of carrying out attacks.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said 60 Australians were fighting with “terrorist groups” in the Middle East and another 100 supported these groups overseas through funding or recruitment.
“I want to make it absolutely crystal clear — anyone who supports terrorists is complicit in the dreadful deeds they do,” Abbott told parliament after Tuesday’s raids.
“Anyone who actively supports terrorists is putting Australian lives at risk because… terrorist activity in the Middle East is now reaching back here to us in Australia.”
Tuesday’s operation involved more than 100 police raiding seven locations in suburban Melbourne, the culmination of an eight-month investigation initiated on a tip-off from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, police said.
The search warrants were mostly executed to gather evidence against the man arrested, they said.
The raids follow some in Sydney and Brisbane earlier this month by more than 800 police to disrupt plans by jihadists to carry out “demonstration executions” on members of the public.
Australia has said it is prepared to join the US-led international coalition which has targeted the Islamic State group.
“Our intention is to disrupt and degrade the activities of the ISIL death cult both here and abroad because… at this time, international security and national security are indivisible,” Abbott said.
Victoria state police deputy commissioner Graham Ashton said because Tuesday’s operation related to terror financing, there was no direct threat to the public.
“We will be acting sooner rather than later if we detect any threat to the community,” Ashton said.