Suspect jihadis plotted to ‘kill as many as possible’
An attempt to buy a black market semiautomatic rifle in recent days by three alleged Islamic terrorists accused of plotting a Melbourne massacre triggered a massive police swoop on Tuesday, resulting in their arrests.
News Corp Australia can reveal police believe Hanifi Halis, 21, Ertunc Eriklioglu, 30, and Samed Eriklioglu, 26, were planning to buy more than one gun before picking a crowded city target.
The trio were using the encrypted app Telegram to form the alleged plot. Police reacted when the men made the move to buy the .22 rifle for thousands of dollars, with investigators believing it was time to move on the Islamic trio.
It is also alleged radicalisation of the three men happened quickly, and involved watching two preachers online.
The trio faced Melbourne Magistrates' Court on Tuesday, which heard police needed to analyse 17,000 intercepted phone calls, 10,500 text messages and 7800 hours of covert recordings.
Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton said: "Whilst a specific location … was not finalised, there was a view towards a crowded place to be able to kill, we allege, as maximum an amount of people as possible."
Tuesday's raids in Melbourne's north which led to the arrests were led by heavily armed Special Operations Group officers.
The Herald Sun understands police will allege the suspects were planning their attack in stages. Chief Commissioner Ashton said: "In the past week, their intentions have escalated … they've become more energised."
Police told the court they would need significantly longer than usual to prepare a brief of evidence against the accused, whom they said had been under investigation for 12 months.
The intercepted phone calls and text messages would run to 325 days if played continuously.
Detectives from the joint counter-terrorism team had been closely monitoring the trio since March.
Stage one of the alleged plot was to gather guns and the next stage was going to be to pick a target in Melbourne's CBD.
According to police, the past week showed the group, described as close-knit, had become "energised" following the deadly attack by Hassan Khalif Shire Ali in Bourke St on November 9.
The group were said to have indicated strong commitment to their cause and were focused on causing a significant loss of life.
They had made an effort to move away from attending the bigger mosques and also avoided socialising with people who might bring them to the attention of police, sources said.
Police have been investigating the men - all Australians of Turkish background - since March, but they had been on the radar since early last year.
All three had their passports cancelled this year - in January, March and October. The men were arrested after police launched raids at 3am in Greenvale, Dallas, Campbellfield and Coolaroo.
The men have been remanded in custody until April 30 next year.
Magistrate Simon Zebrowski ordered the brief of evidence be served by March 19.
The accused men were not required to speak during the short hearing.
Mr Zebrowski said Mr Halis would be particularly vulnerable while in custody because of his age.
He also said all three men would be vulnerable because none of them had been in custody before.
A lawyer for Ertunc Eriklioglu asked that his client be seen by a nurse after sustaining injuries during his early morning arrest.
Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Ian McCartney said the suspects had been inspired by the Islamic State terror group.
"We're not suggesting this has been directed by IS, this has been inspired by IS and the propaganda machine," he said.
"If we had not acted, we allege the consequences could have been chilling."
The men were marched out of AFP headquarters in Melbourne one by one on Tuesday afternoon before being taken to court. Victoria Police on Tuesday reassured the community that the threat had been contained and there was no ongoing danger to the public.
DALLAS SUSPECTS' WIFE: 'I DON'T KNOW ANYTHING'
A woman, believed to be the wife of the Dallas suspect Ertunc Eriklioglu, said she did not know about the alleged terror plot.
"I don't know anything," she said from behind her door.
Asked if she was okay, she replied: "I am not."
"I am not in the mood to talk.
"I don't know what happened."
Police at the scene confirmed the man's family have no involvement in the alleged terror plot.
"They have been highly cooperative with the searches," the officer said.
Smashed glass lay outside the front window of the brick unit following this morning's raid.
A bedroom with a cot can be seen through another front window.
A sign on the front door says: "In the name of Allah we enter, in the name of Allah we leave, and in the Lord we depend."
A woman made rude gestures toward the media as she visited the Dallas home.
She declined to comment about the raids and said: "You guys are cockroaches."
The man has a wife and two young children, including a newborn.
It is understood he worked as a painter up until six months ago when he was injured falling from a ladder.
'THEY DON'T KNOW HOW TO USE A WEAPON'
The father of two of the accused terror plotters has declared his sons are "innocent" and they do not know how to use a weapon.
Armagan Eriklioglu, the father of Samed, 26, and Ertunc, 30, denied his sons had been plotting mass murder, or that they had been radicalised by Islamic State.
"They don't like Islamic State," he said.
"They listen to the scholars like me, but no, not Islamic State and never would attack in Australia, no way."
Police allege the brothers and co-accused Hanifi Halis, 21, tried to get a .22 semiautomatic rifle as part of a plan to kill as many people as possible.
However, Mr Eriklioglu disputed this.
"They don't know even how to use a weapon," he said. "They didn't go to the army."
He insisted he was with his sons "all the time" and that they were not using encrypted phone technology to plot a mass-casualty attack.
"I'm in a group, in a WhatsApp group as well, chatting," he said.
"No planning an attack."
Mr Eriklioglu said he and his sons believed Islamic State was an invention of the US government.
"ISIS has been created by the USA," he said.
"He (Samed) always said that the United States built that ISIS up, they are the ones who made it up.
"I say that too."
He confirmed family members' passports had been cancelled this year ahead of a planned trip to Turkey because of "suspicious things".
The family travelled to Turkey and the Middle East two years ago.
It was around this time the brothers stopped attending the local mosque, according to a neighbour.
He said they had isolated themselves from the community and were worshipping in private at Ertunc's home - the so-called "Blue Mosque" - in Dallas.
"A few months ago they cancelled our passports as well," Mr Eriklioglu said.
"They were going to travel to Turkey.
"He was going to marry, Samed … in Turkey."
Mr Eriklioglu said his youngest son lived in a bungalow with his grandma out the back of his Gentles Ave, Campbellfield family home.
It was one of four properties raided by counter-terrorism police early on Tuesday.
Mr Eriklioglu said two copies of the Koran and a computer were among items seized.
"They tied me up, put me on to the floor and put a gun at me, my wife as well," he said.
Mr Eriklioglu came to Australia from Turkey in 1969 and his sons were born here.
FORENSIC POLICE PROBE COOLAROO HOME
Police were searched a property in Coolaroo on Tuesday morning.
Multiple officers with plastic gloves could be seen entering the home and taking photos.
Officers were seen bringing out paper bags and a suitcase full of items from the house about 1pm. The convoy of police cars then left the scene.
A blue Suzuki Swift is parked in the driveway.
Neighbour Kashif Bashir said a Muslim man, his wife and two young kids have been living at the house for about one month.
He said they seemed friendly and the man would often greet him in the mornings by saying "hello brother".
There were about six police cars when he went to take his children to school about 8am.
Mr Bashir said the neighbour was aged about 35-40.
He said the man's wife wore a niqab and the mother-in-law also lived at the house.
"It's scary," he said.
"This is a very safe area, the neighbours are all very nice."
Neighbour Popi Mamalos said the family who lived in the house were very quiet.
She said they had been there between three weeks and a month and had two young children.
Mrs Mamalos said the father was of Middle Eastern appearance with a beard.
She has lived in her house for 40 years and said it was a nice street where most neighbours were friendly.
"Never, ever trouble," she said.
"I open the blinds this morning I see all the police in there. It's scary. It never happened before that."
GREENVALE SUSPECT WAS MECHANIC
The 21-year-old man from Greenvale was working as a mechanic before he was arrested, neighbours say.
"He had a Toyota badge on his shirt," a neighbour said.
"I didn't try to mix with them, I don't want trouble."
Four police left in an unmarked car shortly before midday.
Police have now removed tape from the front of the property.
Neighbours said a young man at the property had grown a long beard and was regularly seen wearing long flowing clothes.
A Ford sedan, which had front end damage was outside the property.
The airbag had been deployed and the windscreen was also damaged.
The car did not have number plates.
A source said the car had been there for three months.
The house was occupied by two sons, a mother and father and a grandparent, a neighbour said.
Police tape surrounded the front yard this morning.
WHAT WE KNOW
- Three men arrested in early raids in Melbourne's northwest
- The men allegedly planned to carry out a terror attack in a crowded place to kill as many as possible
- They are Hanifi Halis, 21, of Greenvale, Ertunc Eriklioglu, 30, Dallas and Samed Eriklioglu, 26, of Campbellfield.
- All three have been charged with one count of act in preparation for, or planning of terrorist acts.
- Police say they recently tried to get a .22 semiautomatic rifle for the attack
- They had been under investigation by counter-terrorism police since March
- All are Australians of Turkish descent
- All have had their passports cancelled this year