Australian police arrested five men who were allegedly heading to Syria to join Islamic State (Isis). They were caught towing a small boat towards Cape York in far north Queensland.
The arrested men, including notorious Islamic preacher Musa Cerantonio and Shayden Thorne, the brother of hardline Islamist Junaid Thorne, are being held on suspicion of foreign incursion offences, Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.
The five men reportedly intended to travel through Indonesia and the Philippines to reach Syria to join the jihadist group. Australian Federal Police (AFP) suspect they purchased the boat in Melbourne before travelling to Queensland. AFP Deputy Commissioner Neil Gaughan said the men were aged between 21 to 33 years. Following the arrests, the police have reportedly executed eight warrants in Victoria and one in Queensland to gather evidence to build a case against them.
Gaughan said passports of these men were cancelled, yet they were "very committed" to leave the country. "The fact that they'd gone all the way from Melbourne, all the way to far north Queensland, indicates that these people were extremely committed in... their attempt to leave the country," Gaughan told the public broadcaster.
The police told the state broadcaster that they had been investigating the men "for weeks" but their probe did not reveal any imminent domestic terrorism threat. Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton reportedly said the arrested men will be questioned by the police, following which their charges will be considered. "We have a requirement to ensure that people can't get offshore to go and fight in other countries, can't get offshore to become hardened terrorists and come back here and pose a risk," Patton was quoted by the broadcaster as saying.
Cerantonio, an Italian by birth, converted to Islam at the age of 17 and became a popular jihadist preacher in the following years. He was arrested on the Philippines island of Cebu in 2014 after using Twitter to tell his followers that he had travelled to Syria. He was then deported back to Australia but never charged.
Shayden was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2011 and awarded prison sentence for four-and-a-half years for possessing terrorism-related materials on his laptop. He was, however, granted clemency and deported back to Australia in 2014.