Victorian and Federal Police are searching properties across Melbourne again today as part of a counter-terrorism operation.
Yesterday they swooped on properties across the city, seizing items including firearms and a USB containing “violent extremist materials”.
A 23-year-old man from Officer was arrested but has not been charged, and earlier today he was taken to hospital complaining of abdominal pain.
Police say they expect to charge the man with collecting or making documents likely to facilitate terrorist acts.
The Islamic community in the city is distancing itself from a group at the centre of the raids, the Al Furquan centre.
It is also warning against an over-reaction amid fears of a new wave of Islamophobia.
Imam Ibrahim Omerdic from a mosque at Noble Park in Melbourne’s southeast says the Muslim community will suffer because of the publicity generated by the police activity.
He says the 23-year-old man who was arrested was part of a group which split from his mosque.
But Police Minister Peter Ryan says counter-terrorism operations do not target communities based on race or religion.
The president of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Ramzi El-Sayed, says police told him about the raids yesterday afternoon.
He says he is now on alert for any backlash against Melbourne’s Muslim community.
“It can give rise to the notion that the Muslim community is condoning and encouraging some levels of terrorism, and that’s far from the truth,” he said.
“So it is certainly, from our experience, something that we are very much concerned with particularly because of the misunderstandings and the repercussions that can emerge in the wider community.”
Mr El-Sayed says he knows little about the Al Furqan centre.
“They are not part of the Islamic Council of Victoria and nor is their leader, Sheik Haron, part of the Board of Imams or the Australian National Imams Council,” he said.
“So in terms of interaction with the wider community, involvement and engagement, it is limited, and as such we don’t know too much about them.”
Postings on Al Furqan’s Facebook site seem to show that the group knew it was being spied on.
There is also a video of a preacher talking about infiltration by ASIO.
Professor Greg Barton from Monash University’s Global Terrorism Research Centre says the group is on the edge of the edge.
What we know from their website is that they are aligned with the sort of neo-Salafis ideas coming from the Persian Gulf region, the Middle East that justify the actions of Al Qaeda and later groups.
It is the sort of group you might have just dismissed as all talk, no action, but clearly it is serious enough that the police had to have them under surveillance.
Professor Barton says it is interesting there was only one arrest.
And that to me underscores the fact that this was not a terrorist cell or certainly not a terrorist plot on foot.
It was rather the police keeping an eye on a group that was of concern because of their extremist rhetoric and it seems to me that they are trying to keep this as small as possible.
They are probably glad to disrupt rather than have caught this much further downstream and have a large police operation and a large legal operation.