Raids by 870 Australian Federal Police (AFP) and state police smashed their way into properties across Sydney and Brisbane yesterday, executing 28 search warrants in pre-dawn raids, billed as “the biggest counter-terrorism operation in Australia’s history”.
Police worked closely with the mass media, issuing press statements and releasing footage of balaclava-clad officers with assault rifles, standing over hand-cuffed Muslims before the raids had even finished.
The purpose of these raids is to terrorise Muslims, divide the community with Islamophobia and bolster support for an unpopular war and a deeply unpopular government.
Senior government officials and police claim that the raids had foiled a sensational plot by the Islamic State (IS) to carry out a “beheading” of a random Australian civilian and film the act for social media. It was even claimed this was to happen in Martin Place.
The supposed “foiled beheading attack” was reported around the world, with US Secretary of State John Kerry using it to bolster the case for the new US invasion of Iraq and Syria, saying “IS supporters in Australia were planning some kind of extravaganza of brutality”.
But despite all the bluster about an “imminent attack”, almost all of the 15 people taken into custody had been released by Thursday evening without charge. In Brisbane, the police didn’t even arrest anyone during the raids. So far, only one 22 year-old Sydney man, Omarjan Azari, has been charged with “terrorism” offences, which the Legal Aid lawyer representing him in court said were laid on the basis of a single phone-call.
The man’s uncle, a lecturer at Macquarie University, has defended Azari, saying he was a “gentle loving person” concerned about injustice. Azari’s cousin said he was “petrified” by the level of police surveillance he was under, to the point where he had “stopped using his phone”. But Tony Abbott wasted no time declaring the young man guilty, “this is not just suspicion—this is intent”.
Another young man was charged with possessing ammunition and an unnamed weapon, without a licence.
Three of those arrested were held on preventative detention orders for 36 hours but then released by Friday afternoon without charge. This was the first time these draconian orders had been used, since being introduced by the Howard government in 2005. They allow detention without charge for up to two weeks. The laws were due to expire under a sunset clause but the Abbott government is moving to extend their use until 2025 as part of its new anti-terror bill.
Images of a common ornamental sword taken in the raids were flashed across television screens to bolster the story about the threat of “beheading”. But last night the AFP conceded “the word ‘behead’ was not used in the intercepted phone call”.
The raids were politically orchestrated to coincide with the re-deployment of Australian troops to the Middle East. They also come just a week before further draconian anti-terrorism legislation is introduced into Parliament.
Only last Friday, 12 September, Abbott said there was “no specific intelligence of a plot to mount a terrorist attack”, despite the decision to raise the terror alert from medium to high—meaning an attack was “likely”. Police said they had been watching this particular “group” since May.
Outgoing ASIO Director-General David Irvine, who signed off on the increased terror alert, said at the time he was concerned that the threat could include a bombing similar to the 2002 Bali bombing.
Yet the only person found with bomb-making materials in recent weeks, along with maps of Sydney, was an Anglo-Australian who had used fake navy ID to rent a property in Brisbane.
The only clear evidence to emerge from yesterday’s raids is of the widespread police brutality.
Raban Alou described the police raid to pull his brother out of their flat in Wentworthville to the Sydney Morning Herald:
”My little brother was in shock. He’s never witnessed anything like that. He was on the floor on his stomach and ‘crack’ on the nose. He was bleeding and they dragged him… they made us get on our knees”.
He said of some other homes that were raided, “I know them as well; they never done anything wrong.”
By midday his brother had been released without charge.
Tom Dudu, a 19-year-old plumber from Westmead described a similar raid on his family house to apprehend his younger brother, “He’s 15 years old, he is still at home, he’s in year 10…we haven’t done anything.”
Rabie el Achwah, 22, from Bass Hill had his door smashed in by police, who fired a flare into the property before forcing himself and his father to the floor at gunpoint. Woman and young children were ordered by a masked officer with a rifle to get back into their bedroom. The house was ransacked with all draws pulled out and cushions cut open. All electronic devices were confiscated, including the phones of young children.
Maywand Osman, who was detained during a raid in Marsfield but not arrested told the ABC:
“They threw me to the ground and started hitting me in the head and pulling my hair.”
“One officer grabbed me by the hair and said ‘you piece of shit’. While they were beating me I heard one officer say ‘just don’t make him bleed’.”
At protest rally in Lakemba condemning the raids, a teenage boy told the crowd about how his mother had been pulled out of bed half naked and punched in the ear by police.
The media was full of interviews with local residents yesterday parroting the Islamophobia Tony Abbott has been pushing hard these last few weeks. One neighbour of a family raided in Bass Hill told Triple M: “I’m not a racist…but you see these people, we walk down the street, you say ‘g’day’ they look down… they’re a bit iffy”.
But the serious consequences of Islamophobia are already on display. Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammad, the Grand Mufti of Australia said there, “has been a dramatic increase of abuse and discrimination against Muslim Australians in recent weeks”.
Only two days after the government announced the increase in the terror alert, anti-Muslim leaflets were thrown into the grounds of a Brisbane mosque at Logan.
Later that week, the Gold Coast Council ignored its own building committee’s approval and rejected an application to build a mosque.
Two councillors received death threats because of their support for the mosque, but there was little media about the threats from those anti-Muslim extremists.
Disgracefully, Liberal Senator, Cory Bernardi (who was formerly Tony Abbott’s parliamentary secretary) has used the raids to re-new his call to ban the burqa.
Abbott’s “Team Australia” is all about fostering Islamophobia while he goes to war in Iraq and wages war on jobs, health and education at home.
By Paddy Gibson