(CNSNews.com) – As Australian police and intelligence agencies try to piece together pieces of an alleged plot to bomb a commercial aircraft, the country’s two busiest airports witnessed lengthy lines and delays Monday, with passengers urged to minimize baggage and arrive earlier than usual for enhanced security checks.
Judicial authorities in Sydney granted police an extension on the period of detention for four men, arrested in a series of police raids in Australia’s biggest city on Saturday night but yet to be charged. They are being held under anti-terror legislation that gives investigators a week to bring charges, but requires a magistrate’s periodic review and consent.
Speculation is rife, but media outlets are reporting on two suspected scenarios – an alleged attempt to smuggle an improvised explosive device onto an aircraft, hidden inside a kitchen meat-grinder, or to smuggle onboard a device that would release noxious gas to kill or incapacitate passengers.
“In recent days, law enforcement has become aware of information that suggested some people in Sydney were planning to commit a terrorist act using an improvised device," Australian Federal Police commissioner Andrew Colvin told reporters alongside Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Sunday.
“We do believe it is Islamic-inspired terrorism,” he said. “Exactly what is behind this is something that we will need to investigate fully.”
Colvin said police were still investigating the specification location, date and time of the planned attack, but confirmed that information pointed to the likelihood that “the aviation industry was potentially a target.”
Australia’s News Corp reported that it was thought the plan was to target a flight from Sydney to a Middle Eastern destination, possibly Dubai. Emirates and Qantas fly the direct long-haul route.
At a time when “lone wolf” and low-tech terror attacks – such as vehicle-ramming and stabbings – have become more commonplace, especially in Europe, the thwarted plot sounds more akin to those of past years, when terrorists sought to carry out more high-profile attacks on aircraft, using bombs hidden in hand-luggage liquids, shoes or underwear.
The four suspects arrested were identified as two fathers and adult sons, reportedly related by marriage.
“Investigators believe that, based on the degree of sophistication of the plot, the group may have had some overseas direction,” the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
Australian Justice Minister Michael Keenan on Monday described the plot as “sophisticated.”
He told Sky News a plan to bring down an aircraft “is a horrendous objective, and it’s quite shocking that there are people in the Australian community who would actually be thinking about doing something like this.”
“It’s a reminder of the dangers that we do face, and the fact that whilst we’ve been concerned about lone actors, for example, there is still the capacity within small sections of the Australian community to plan a sophisticated attack like this.”
According to Keenan, 13 terror plots have been thwarted in Australia since 2014 and 70 people have been charged as a result of 31 counter terror operations over that period.
Australia’s national terror threat level has been set at “probable” – the third-highest on a scale of five – since late 2014.