Australian police have detained a 20-year-old man for plotting a mass shooting during the New Year’s Eve celebrations in a major city.
Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton announced Tuesday morning that the Australian-born citizen with Somali parents had attempted to obtain an automatic rifle to attack crowds at the Federation Square in Australia’s second largest city of Melbourne.
Patton said the suspect had been under surveillance for a long time.
“The male is one of our high-risk persons of interest. We have been monitoring him for a very lengthy period of time,” Patton said.
He said the suspect had downloaded instruction from an al-Qaeda-linked website on how to launch a terrorist attack and how to use guns.
“He’s accessed documents produced by al-Qaeda [in the] Arabian Peninsula, which is a guidebook in respect to how to commit a terrorist act and also how to use firearms, guns and handguns, and rifles,” Patton said. “We are alleging that… he is a sympathizer of ISIS (Daesh).”
The police official also described the suspect as “a person who’s expressed an intention to try and kill as many people as he could through shooting them.”
He said the plot had been foiled, however. “The risk that was posed by this person has been removed.”
According to Patton, the suspect was detained by police officers as he met with people in efforts to acquire a gun.
Australia has strict gun laws, and automatic weapons are banned from private ownership.
Police expect the suspect would appear in a Melbourne court on Tuesday or Wednesday on charges of plotting a terrorist attack.
Those convicted of that crime in Australia face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
The suspect is the 74th arrested in Australia as part of 31 counter-terrorism investigations since the country’s terrorism threat level was elevated to “probable” in September 2014.
Meanwhile, Australia’s Justice Minister Michael Keenan separately announced that police had arrested four extremists last December over a similar plot to attack Federal Square and other public places in Melbourne over the Christmas-New Year period.
Keenan called on the public to continue with their usual routines over the holiday period and expect to see a heavy presence of police officers.
“The aim of these terrorists is to foster fear and intimidation, but Australians should be able to go about their business secure in the understanding that the government has worked very closely with law enforcement and other security agencies to keep them safe,” Keenan said.