Australia terror crackdown sees armed police in parliament

Barry Parker

Sydney (AFP) - Australia deployed armed police inside parliament on Friday in the face of extremist threats, ramping up an anti-terror crackdown after foiling a plot by Islamic State jihadists to carry out gruesome "demonstration executions" in the country.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott called an emergency meeting of his national security committee after urging Australians not to be intimidated by murderous plots, including beheadings.

"All levels of government ... will do whatever we humanely can to keep our community safe," he told a press conference.

"The best way for people to respond to the threat of terror is to go about their normal lives," Abbott said. "Terrorists want to scare us out of being ourselves."

"There will be armed federal police in and around our national parliament at all times," he said after unveiling threats to the institution and government officials.

The prime minister has refused to link the latest threats against Australia to the nation's role in fighting the Islamic State organisation in Iraq.

He refuses to use the word "state" and brands the group a "death cult".

Canberra has committed 600 troops and aircraft to the US-led coalition gearing up to destroy the jihadists.

The remarks came after hundreds of police officers staged pre-dawn raids across Sydney and Brisbane on Thursday, detaining 15 people.

One man has been charged with terrorism-related offences and nine released, police said. At least one gun was seized, along with a sword.

Abbott said an attack had been feared "within days" and investigations were continuing Friday with more people expected to be charged.

Omarjan Azari, 22, was remanded in custody Thursday, charged with planning a terrorist act.

Prosecutors alleged it was designed to "shock, horrify and terrify" the community and involved the "random selection of persons to rather gruesomely execute" on camera.

The jihadists have in recent weeks broadcast video footage of three foreign nationals being beheaded in Syria.

Abbott backed away from comments made earlier in the day suggesting that he himself was a specific target.

He said he was "not aware that specific individuals have been named ... but certainly government, government people, and parliament have been referred to."

"Earlier this month I was advised of chatter among these terrorist networks of a potential attack on government, government people, parliament house."

He said he ordered an urgent security review which recommended tighter measures at parliament in the capital Canberra.

"Implementation is now taking place and as a result of that Australian Federal Police will be in charge of not just the external security of parliament house but the internal security as well."

- 'Demonstration executions' -

The raids came a week after Australia lifted the terror threat level to "high" for the first time in a decade on growing concern about militants returning from fighting in Iraq and Syria.

Police have launched Operation Hammerhead to bolster security at potential targets and to reassure the public.

Abbott expanded on his comments Thursday that public beheadings had been ordered by IS militants.

"Earlier this week an Australian who is a senior ISIL operative in Syria instructed his networks here in Australia to look to commit demonstration executions," he told Seven television.

"Because we believed that a demonstration execution was likely quickly, we acted as we did to disrupt this particular network."

The government believes up to 60 Australians are fighting alongside IS jihadists, while another 100 are actively working to support the movement at home.

The prime minister played down fears the anti-terror crackdown would alienate Muslims.

Protestors marched Thursday in Lakemba, a suburb in western Sydney which is the centre of the city's Muslim community, to protest against police victimisation.

Abbott said the demonstration was "much smaller than expected, only about a hundred" people and did not reflect the views of the wider community.

"The vast majority of Australian Muslims are absolutely first-class Australians," he said.