Islamic State plot in Australia raises questions

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Islamic State plot in Australia raises questions
Police investigators search a car at a home at Guildford in suburban Sydney, Australia after 800 federal and state police officers raided more than two dozen properties as part of the operation Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Australian police detained 15 people earlier on Thursday in a major counterterrorism operation, saying intelligence indicated a random, violent attack was being planned on Australian soil. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Members of a Muslim community gather for a peaceful demonstration at Lakemba in suburban Sydney following raids involving 800 federal and state police officers that came in response to intelligence that an Islamic State group leader in the Middle East was calling on Australian supporters to kill in Sydney, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Police said they thwarted a plot to carry out beheadings in Australia by supporters of the radical Islamic State group by detaining 15 people and raiding more than a dozen properties across Sydney early on Thursday. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Members of a Muslim community say a prayer as they gather for a peaceful demonstration at Lakemba in suburban Sydney following raids involving 800 federal and state police officers that came in response to intelligence that an Islamic State group leader in the Middle East was calling on Australian supporters to kill in Sydney, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Police said they thwarted a plot to carry out beheadings in Australia by supporters of the radical Islamic State group by detaining 15 people and raiding more than a dozen properties across Sydney early on Thursday. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Police investigators find a notice in trunk of car near a residence at Guildford in suburban Sydney after 800 federal and state police officers raided more than two dozen properties as part of the operation in Sydney, Australia Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Australian police detained 15 people earlier on Thursday in a major counterterrorism operation, saying intelligence indicated a random, violent attack was being planned on Australian soil. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Police investigators work at a home at Guildford in suburban Sydney, Australia after about 800 federal and state police officers raided more than two dozen properties as part of the operation Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Australian police detained 15 people earlier on Thursday in a major counterterrorism operation, saying intelligence indicated a random, violent attack was being planned on Australian soil. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Police investigators work at a home at Guildford in suburban Sydney, Australia after about 800 federal and state police officers raided more than two dozen properties as part of the operation Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Australian police detained 15 people earlier on Thursday in a major counterterrorism operation, saying intelligence indicated a random, violent attack was being planned on Australian soil. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Police investigators work in a garage at a home at Guildford in suburban Sydne, Australia after about 800 federal and state police officers raided more than two dozen properties as part of the operation Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Australian police detained 15 people earlier on Thursday in a major counterterrorism operation, saying intelligence indicated a random, violent attack was being planned on Australian soil. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Police investigators work in a garage at a home at Guildford in suburban Sydney, Australia after about 800 federal and state police officers raided more than two dozen properties as part of the operation Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Australian police detained 15 people earlier on Thursday in a major counterterrorism operation, saying intelligence indicated a random, violent attack was being planned on Australian soil. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
A police investigator arrives with a shovel at a home at Guildford in suburban Sydney after about 800 federal and state police officers raided more than two dozen properties as part of the operation Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Australian police detained 15 people earlier on Thursday in a major counterterrorism operation, saying intelligence indicated a random, violent attack was being planned on Australian soil. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Police investigators work at a home at Guildford in suburban Sydney, Australia after about 800 federal and state police officers raided more than two dozen properties as part of an operation Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Australian police detained 15 people earlier on Thursday in a major counterterrorism operation, saying intelligence indicated a random, violent attack was being planned on Australian soil. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione, right, and Australian Federal Police Acting Commissioner Andrew Colvin describe how 800 federal and state police officers raided more than two dozen properties as part of the operation in Sydney, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Australian police detained 15 people earlier on Thursday in a major counterterrorism operation, saying intelligence indicated a random, violent attack was being planned on Australian soil. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Australian Federal Police Acting Commissioner Andrew Colvin, left, and New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione, right, describe how 800 federal and state police officers raided more than two dozen properties as part of the operation in Sydney, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Australian police detained 15 people earlier on Thursday in a major counterterrorism operation, saying intelligence indicated a random, violent attack was being planned on Australian soil. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Australian Federal Police Acting Commissioner Andrew Colvin, left, leaves a press conference after describing how 800 federal and state police officers raided more than two dozen properties as part of the operation in Sydney, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Australian police detained 15 people earlier on Thursday in a major counterterrorism operation, saying intelligence indicated a random, violent attack was being planned on Australian soil. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione, left, speaks with a reporter after a press conference about how 800 federal and state police officers raided more than two dozen properties as part of the operation in Sydney, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Australian police detained 15 people earlier on Thursday in a major counterterrorism operation, saying intelligence indicated a random, violent attack was being planned on Australian soil. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Australian Federal Police Acting Commissioner Andrew Colvin describes how 800 federal and state police officers raided more than two dozen properties as part of the operation in Sydney, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Australian police detained 15 people earlier on Thursday in a major counterterrorism operation, saying intelligence indicated a random, violent attack was being planned on Australian soil. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione, right, and Australian Federal Police Acting Commissioner Andrew Colvin describe how 800 federal and state police officers raided more than two dozen properties as part of the operation in Sydney, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Australian police detained 15 people earlier on Thursday in a major counterterrorism operation, saying intelligence indicated a random, violent attack was being planned on Australian soil. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
WENTWORTHVILLE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 19: Raban Alou stands outside his on home on Lane Street in Wentworthville which was searched by Australian Federal Police and NSW Police as part of an anti-terrorist raid, on September 19, 2014 in Wentworthville, Sydney, Australia. The raid is part of a huge operation including state and federal police. (Photo by Geoff Jones/Fairfax Media via Getty Images)
Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott (2nd R) speaks at a joint press conference with New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione (L) , New South Wales Premier Mike Baird and Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin (R) in Sydney on September 19, 2014. Australia stepped up an anti-terror crackdown on with the deployment of armed police inside parliament in the face of threats from extremists after foiling a plot by Islamic State jihadists for 'demonstration executions'. AFP PHOTO / Saeed KHAN (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott (C) arrives to speak at a joint press conference with Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin (R) and New South Wales Premier Mike Baird in Sydney on September 19, 2014. Australia stepped up an anti-terror crackdown on with the deployment of armed police inside parliament in the face of threats from extremists after foiling a plot by Islamic State jihadists for 'demonstration executions'. AFP PHOTO / Saeed KHAN (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WENTWORTHVILLE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 18: Australian Federal Police and NSW Police carry out a vehicle search outside a house on Lane Street in Wentworthville which was searched as part of an anti-terrorist raid, on September 18, 2014 in Wentworthville, Sydney, Australia. The raid is part of a huge operation including state and federal police. (Photo by Geoff Jones/Fairfax Media via Getty Images)
Demonstrators from the Muslim community attend a protest rally against pre-dawn raids in Sydney on September 18, 2014. Australia's largest ever counter-terrorism raids detained 15 people and disrupted plans to 'commit violent acts', including against random members of the public that reportedly involved a beheading on camera. AFP PHOTO / Saeed Khan (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
A forensic officer recovers papers from a car parked in front of a raided house in the Guildford area of Sydney on September 18, 2014. Australia's largest ever counter-terrorism raids on September 18 detained 15 people and foiled a plot by Islamic State jihadists to conduct 'demonstration killings', reportedly including beheading a member of the public on camera. AFP PHOTO / Saeed Khan (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Forensic experts collect evidence following the search of a car parked in front of a raided house in the Guildford area of Sydney on September 18, 2014. Australia's largest ever counter-terrorism raids on September 18 detained 15 people and foiled a plot by Islamic State jihadists to conduct 'demonstration killings', reportedly including beheading a member of the public on camera. AFP PHOTO / Saeed Khan (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
A forensic expert checks the doors of a car parked in front of a raided house in the Guildford area of Sydney on September 18, 2014. Australia's largest ever counter-terrorism raids on September 18 detained 15 people and foiled a plot by Islamic State jihadists to conduct 'demonstration killings', reportedly including beheading a member of the public on camera. AFP PHOTO / Saeed Khan (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
An officer walks toward a house during a raid in the Guildford area of Sydney on September 18, 2014. Australia's largest ever counter-terrorism raids on September 18 detained 15 people and foiled a plot by Islamic State jihadists to conduct 'demonstration killings', reportedly including beheading a member of the public on camera. AFP PHOTO / Saeed Khan (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Forensic experts collect evidence from a house in the Guildford area of Sydney on September 18, 2014. Australia's largest ever counter-terrorism raids detained 15 people and disrupted plans to 'commit violent acts', including against random members of the public that reportedly involved a beheading on camera. AFP PHOTO / Saeed Khan (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Police officers stand guard outside a house during a raid in the Guildford area of Sydney on September 18, 2014. Australia's largest ever counter-terrorism raids detained 15 people and disrupted plans to 'commit violent acts', including against random members of the public that reportedly involved a beheading on camera. AFP PHOTO / Saeed Khan (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Forensic experts collect evidence from a house in the Guildford area of Sydney on September 18, 2014. Australia's largest ever counter-terrorism raids detained 15 people and disrupted plans to 'commit violent acts', including against random members of the public that reportedly involved a beheading on camera. AFP PHOTO / Saeed Khan (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Forensic experts collect evidence from a car outside a house in the Guildford area of Sydney on September 18, 2014. Australia's largest ever counter-terrorism raids detained 15 people and disrupted plans to 'commit violent acts', including against random members of the public that reportedly involved a beheading on camera. AFP PHOTO / Saeed Khan (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Police officers stand guard outside a house during a raid in the Guildford area of Sydney on September 18, 2014. Australia's largest ever counter-terrorism raids detained 15 people and disrupted plans to 'commit violent acts', including against random members of the public that reportedly involved a beheading on camera. AFP PHOTO / Saeed Khan (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Police officers stand guard outside a house during a raid in the Guildford area of Sydney on September 18, 2014. Australia's largest ever counter-terrorism raids detained 15 people and disrupted plans to 'commit violent acts', including against random members of the public that reportedly involved a beheading on camera. AFP PHOTO / Saeed Khan (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Forensic experts collect evidence from a car outside a house in the Guildford area of Sydney on September 18, 2014. Australia's largest ever counter-terrorism raids detained 15 people and disrupted plans to 'commit violent acts', including against random members of the public that reportedly involved a beheading on camera. AFP PHOTO / Saeed Khan (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Forensic experts collect evidence from a car outside a house in the Guildford area of Sydney on September 18, 2014. Australia's largest ever counter-terrorism raids detained 15 people and disrupted plans to 'commit violent acts', including against random members of the public that reportedly involved a beheading on camera. AFP PHOTO / Saeed Khan (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Forensic experts collect evidence from a house in the Guildford area of Sydney on September 18, 2014. Australia's largest ever counter-terrorism raids detained 15 people and disrupted plans to 'commit violent acts', including against random members of the public that reportedly involved a beheading on camera. AFP PHOTO / Saeed Khan (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Police officers stand guard outside a house during a raid in the Guildford area of Sydney on September 18, 2014. Australia's largest ever counter-terrorism raids detained 15 people and disrupted plans to 'commit violent acts', including against random members of the public that reportedly involved a beheading on camera. AFP PHOTO / Saeed Khan (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Forensic experts collect evidence from a house in the Guildford area of Sydney on September 18, 2014. Australia's largest ever counter-terrorism raids detained 15 people and disrupted plans to 'commit violent acts', including against random members of the public that reportedly involved a beheading on camera. AFP PHOTO / Saeed Khan (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Forensic experts collect evidence from a car outside a house in the Guildford area of Sydney on September 18, 2014. Australia's largest ever counter-terrorism raids detained 15 people and disrupted plans to 'commit violent acts', including against random members of the public that reportedly involved a beheading on camera. AFP PHOTO / Saeed Khan (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Forensic experts (R) collect evidence from a car outside a house in the Guildford area of Sydney on September 18, 2014. Australia's largest ever counter-terrorism raids detained 15 people and disrupted plans to 'commit violent acts', including against random members of the public that reportedly involved a beheading on camera. AFP PHOTO / Saeed Khan (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Forensic experts collect evidence from a car outside a house in the Guildford area of Sydney on September 18, 2014. Australia's largest ever counter-terrorism raids detained 15 people and disrupted plans to 'commit violent acts', including against random members of the public that reportedly involved a beheading on camera. AFP PHOTO / Saeed Khan (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Forensic experts collect evidence from a house in the Guildford area of Sydney on September 18, 2014. Australia's largest ever counter-terrorism raids detained 15 people and disrupted plans to 'commit violent acts', including against random members of the public that reportedly involved a beheading on camera. AFP PHOTO / Saeed Khan (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Forensic experts collect evidence from a house in the Guildford area of Sydney on September 18, 2014. Australia's largest ever counter-terrorism raids detained 15 people and disrupted plans to 'commit violent acts', including against random members of the public that reportedly involved a beheading on camera. AFP PHOTO / Saeed Khan (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Forensic experts collect evidence from a house in the Guildford area of Sydney on September 18, 2014. Australia's largest ever counter-terrorism raids detained 15 people and disrupted plans to 'commit violent acts', including against random members of the public that reportedly involved a beheading on camera. AFP PHOTO / Saeed Khan (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Forensic experts collect evidence from a house in the Guildford area of Sydney on September 18, 2014. Australia's largest ever counter-terrorism raids detained 15 people and disrupted plans to 'commit violent acts', including against random members of the public that reportedly involved a beheading on camera. AFP PHOTO / Saeed Khan (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Australian Federal Police Acting Commissioner Andrew Colvin (C) speaks during a press conference as senior law inforcement officers listen, in Sydney on September 18, 2014, after Australia's largest ever counter-terrorism raids detained 15 people and disrupted plans to 'commit violent acts', including against random members of the public that reportedly involved a beheading on camera. A major pre-dawn operation was carried out across Sydney and Brisbane by more than 800 officers. Some 25 search warrants were executed with one person so far charged with serious terrorism-related offences. He was to appear in court later in the day. AFP PHOTO/William WEST (Photo credit should read WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 18: NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione speaks with AFP Acting Commissioner Andrew Colvin releasing details of an extensive NSW Joint Counter Terrorism Team operation in Sydney on September 18, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced five days ago that the Australian terror threat has been raised from medium to high. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 18: AFP Acting Commissioner Andrew Colvin and NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione release details of an extensive NSW Joint Counter Terrorism Team operation in Sydney on September 18, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced five days ago that the Australian terror threat has been raised from medium to high. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
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By ROD McGUIRK
Associated Press

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- The Islamic State plot to carry out random beheadings in Sydney alleged by police is a simple and barbaric scheme that has shaken Australians. But terrorism experts on Friday questioned whether the ruthless movement had the capacity or inclination to sustain a terror campaign so far from the Middle East.

Police said they thwarted such a plot by detaining suspects and raiding more than a dozen properties across Sydney on Thursday.

The Islamic State militant group has beheaded three Westerners in the Middle East in recent weeks and recorded the brutal slayings to make propaganda videos widely condemned.

Australian Police Arrest 15 Alleged ISIS Supporters

Two of the 15 people whom police had detained Thursday have been charged. Nine were freed before the day was over, and the rest released on Friday.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott conceded it was difficult to safeguard the Australian population against such attacks.

"The regrettable reality is that to mount the kind of attacks which ISIL in Syria and in Iraq has in mind for Australia, all you need is a determined individual who will kill without compunction, a knife, an iPhone and a victim," Abbott told Seven Network television on Friday, using one of Islamic State's former names, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Some terrorism experts saw the plot as a potential shift in Islamic State's focus from creating an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East. Others said it is more likely a symptom of policy confusion within a disparate group.

"If you have people coming in from different backgrounds from all these countries, when it comes to policy making, they're going to fight each other, they're going to kill each other," said Samuel Makinda, professor of International Relations and Security Studies at Murdoch University.

"On ISIS, I see no direct threat to Australia or to any other country at the moment except those in the Middle East," he added, using the movement's former name, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

The raids involving 800 federal and state police officers came in response to intelligence that an Islamic State group leader in Syria was calling on Australian supporters to kill, Abbott said.

Hundreds of Muslims in the Sydney suburb of Lakemba protested the raids on Thursday night, with speakers accusing the government of exploiting public fear in a bid to get contentious counterterrorism laws through Parliament.

Abbott defended the raids against accusations of overkill.

"It was a show of strength," Abbott told reporters. "It needed to be a show of strength. It needed to be a demonstration that we will respond with strength to any threat to our way of life and to our national security."

Abbott said armed police were taking over security at Parliament House in Canberra, because Australian Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria had been urging their supporters at home to attack the building and government members.

With national grand finals approaching in Rugby League and Australian Rules Football - among the country's most popular sports - police have said security will be boosted at sports arenas and other public venues attracting large numbers of people.

Greg Barton, a Monash University global terrorism expert, said Islamic State could be starting to direct its global followers to take the fight to their home communities in a bid to usurp al-Qaida's position as the leading global jihadist network.

The movement could eventually mount attacks in Australia like last year's massacre by militant group al-Shabaab on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, that killed 67, Barton said.

It might also become capable of replicating in Australia the London public transport bombings of 2005 which killed four suicide bombers and 52 victims.

"We don't think they have that capacity right now ... so our more immediate threats are things like the Woolwich killing which are very low tech," said Barton, referring to last year's slaying in the London suburb of Woolwich. Two extremists ran a soldier down in a car then stabbed and hacked him to death in public.

"Its power of persuasion at the moment is considerable," Barton said of Islamic State. "Whether it's got many followers here in Australia who have much technical nous is not clear."

The government estimates Islamic State has 100 supporters within Australia.

Security authorities are particularly concerned by the dozens of Australian jihadists who have already returned home after fighting for Islamic State or another al-Qaida offshoot Jabhat al-Nursa, also known as the Nusra Front, in Iraq and Syria. Their combat and bomb-making training could make them potent terrorists.

But Clive Williams, a counterterrorism expert at the Australian National University and a former military intelligence officer, said Islamic State supporters who can't join the fight because their passports have been canceled on security grounds are more worrying.

"The ones who are coming back aren't a problem because maybe they're less committed, or maybe they're less enchanted," Williams said. "The ones who come back are less of a problem than the ones who want to go."

Thursday's raids came just days after Australia raised its terrorism threat to the second-highest level in response to the domestic threat posed by Islamic State supporters.

Federal Police Acting Commissioner Andrew Colvin said police conducted additional raids in Sydney Thursday night. No one was arrested as a result of those raids.

One of those detained, 22-year-old Omarjan Azari of Sydney, appeared in court on Thursday charged with conspiracy to prepare for a terrorist attack. Another man faces a lesser weapons charge.

Mohammad Ali Baryalei, believed to be Australia's most senior Islamic State member, was named as a co-conspirator in court documents. Police have issued an arrest warrant for him.

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