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Australian police carry out "counter-terrorism" raids at an apartment block in Melbourne, Australia, June 9, 2017 that are said to be linked to the deadly siege by a lone gunman in the country's second biggest city earlier in the week. REUTERS/Melanie Burton

(reuters_tickers)

By Melanie Burton

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australian counter-terrorism police conducted raids in the southern city of Melbourne on Friday and questioned three men they said were suspected of providing weapons used in a deadly siege this week claimed by the Islamic State group.

The Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation joined police in carrying out search warrants on five addresses linked to Monday's attack in Australia's second-largest city, Victoria state Deputy Police Commissioner Shane Patton said.

Police shot dead gunman Yacqub Khayre, who they said had a long criminal history, on Monday night after he killed a man in an apartment block in a beachside Melbourne suburb and held a woman hostage for several hours.

Three police officers were wounded in a shootout at the end of the siege but the woman was unhurt.

Patton told reporters a 32-year-old man was arrested after Friday's raids, however police later said they released the man without charge. A second man, 31, and his father were being questioned by counter-terrorism police, he said.

The men were not suspected of militant activity but "they may be involved in the provision of firearms in this matter", Patton said.

Police said they seized computers and mobile phones and an imitation shotgun, but no firearms or live ammunition.

A Reuters witness saw five uniformed and plain-clothed police wearing gloves and breathing masks entering an apartment in a three-storey block and putting household items into plastic evidence bags.

Australia, a staunch U.S. ally, has been on heightened alert for attacks by home-grown militants returning from fighting in the Middle East, or their supporters, since 2014.

Monday's siege sparked debates about immigration and parole laws. Pauline Hanson, leader of the far-right One Nation party, has said she would support a travel ban similar to those U.S. President Donald Trump has tried to introduce, as well as the internment of people on security watch lists.

Khayre was granted parole in November after being convicted of a violent home invasion.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Friday said state laws will be changed to stop any prisoner who has links to terror organisations being eligible for parole or bail.

Australia passed laws last year allowing the indefinite detention of anyone convicted of terror-related offences if authorities believed that person posed a threat after their release.

"If you have someone who has terrorist sympathies and who has a propensity to violence, every day they are not on the street is a good day," Turnbull told reporters.

"I look forward to the first ministers today agreeing that there will be a strong presumption against bail or parole for persons who have shown support for, or have had links to, terrorism or violent extremism," he said.

Khayre was also acquitted of a plot to attack a Sydney army base in 2009.

(Additional reporting by Jane Wardell in SYDNEY and Charlotte Greenfield in WELLINGTON; Writing by Byron Kaye in SYDNEY; Editing by Peter Cooney, Chris Reese, Paul Tait and Michael Perry)

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