Police raided a number of properties across Melbourne’s southeast on Wednesday and say they expect to charge a man with collecting or making documents likely to facilitate terrorist acts.
There was no immediate threat to the community’s safety, Victoria Police and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) said.
Police targeted 11 properties in Melbourne’s southeast, including the Al-Furqan Islamic Information Centre in Springvale, in simultaneous raids about 6am (AEST) on Wednesday.
They seized a number of items including a USB memory stick containing violent extremist materials, computer equipment, imitation firearms and a number of registered firearms, a joint AFP and Victoria Police statement said.
Police arrested a 23-year-old man from the southeastern suburb of Officer. He was expected to be charged on Wednesday night with collecting or making documents likely to facilitate terrorist acts.
The maximum penalty for the offence is 15 years’ jail.
Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner for Crime Steve Fontana said the joint investigation was ongoing.
“I would like to reassure people that we have not identified any immediate threats that pose immediate concerns to the safety of the community and we will continue to work to ensure that all steps are taken to protect all members of the community,” Mr Fontana said in a statement.
A spokesman for the Al-Furqan centre in Springvale (pictured), who did not want to be identified, said police arrived there at 6am (AEST) and stayed until about 6pm.
“They wouldn’t allow anyone inside, they just cordoned it off,” the man told AAP.
“They took a few things and gave us a receipt.”
He said Al Furqan was an Islamic information center and book shop.
“Everyone has been taken aback but you always have the feeling that these things can happen,” he said.
He said police also raided a number of houses in the Springvale area.
“Muslims live here and they are checking things in the neighborhood,” he said.
The Al-Furqan centre also engages in religious instruction and conducts lectures on Islam.
Its website carries videos of Islamist militia fighting in the Arab world, such as the uprising in Syria, separatists in Mali and reports of the Taliban infiltrating the Afghan army.
Police briefed representatives of the local Islamic community in Melbourne on Wednesday afternoon saying 11 properties had been raided.
Islamic Council of Victoria president Ramzi el Sayed said Al-Furqan was on the fringes of the Muslim community and its leader, Sheik Haron, was not a member of the mainstream Muslim society.
He said the organisation also held Islamic classes and had recreational facilities which it used to attract younger people.
The raids were carried out in the suburbs of Narre Warren South, Craigieburn, Hallam, Officer, Springvale South and Noble Park.
The AFP’s acting counter terrorism national manager Justine Saunders described the arrest as a positive outcome for the two agencies, which are committed to preventing terrorist activity.
“The result of today’s operation demonstrates the importance of operations undertaken by Australia’s Joint Counter Terrorism Teams, and is an example of proactive law enforcement action to prevent terrorist activity in Australia,” Ms Saunders said in the joint statement.
“The AFP is committed to working with state and territory police, and the community in order to counter the ongoing and enduring threat of terrorism and ensure the safety and security of the community.”
Mr el Sayed commended the police for consulting with the Islamic community as events unfolded.
“They carried out the raids showing a lot of respect including telling the women at some of the houses that they were coming in and for them to put on their headgear and scarves,” he told AAP on Wednesday night.
“The whole landscape of terrorism is a tough area. It’s a very fine line between what constitutes an offence and what doesn’t.
“We have had some high-profile raids in the past and one of the outcomes was that we should be debriefed so we can be better prepared for the response rather than being on the backfoot.”
Three Islamic extremists were jailed in December for 18 years over a 2009 plot to kill as many Australian soldiers as they could at Sydney’s Holsworthy Army Base.
Victorian Supreme Court Justice Betty King told Wissam Mahmoud Fattal, 35, Saney Edow Aweys, 28, and Nayef El Sayed, 27, they should hang their heads in shame.
The trio plans to fight the convictions while prosecutors are also appealing their sentences. Two other Melbourne men were cleared by a jury over their alleged roles.
Fairfax reported the men arrested on Wednesday were Australian residents with a mixture of cultural backgrounds.
It said one whose house was raided condemned the police and intelligence services in a Facebook posting.
“And look at the tactics. They come early in the morning (6am) and break the door of the markaz and about 20-30 come to the door of my neighbour as well. He (the neighbour) is overseas and has no control over what’s happening over here,” he wrote.
“In the house are only his wife and children who have been followed in the house even to the point that one policewomen has to go with them when they change clothes!
“Also, there are two police cars parked in the front of units to check who is entering and exiting the units! Also, there are brothers living in the nearby house who have also being raided.”