Police have been watching Melbourne man Ali Khalif Shire Ali for a long time.
They pounced on Monday, arresting the 20-year-old in a Werribee shopping strip, and a day later he faced Melbourne Magistrates’ Court charged with plotting a New Year’s Eve shooting at Federation Square.
“The allegations are that he was planning to commit a terrorist act and that he attempted to obtain a gun to do so,” Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton told reporters on Tuesday before Ali was charged.
The practicing Muslim was born in Australia, is an Australian citizen and his parents were from Somalia, Mr. Patton added.
“The male is one of our high-risk persons of interest. We have been monitoring him for a very long period of time,” he told reporters.
Ali was charged with preparing to commit a terrorist attack and collecting documents to facilitate a terrorist attack and will remain in custody until his next scheduled court appearance in March
Federal Justice Minister Michael Keenan said the government does not target a specific ethnic group as part of its terrorism investigations.
“The Muslim community is not being targeted by the government,” he said.
“We’ll go after individuals, we don’t target a specific community, and we require the Muslim community to work with us.”
Described as an “ISIL-sympathiser” by Mr. Keenan, it’s alleged he accessed a guidebook produced by al-Qaeda containing information on how to commit a terrorist act and use firearms, guns and handguns and rifles.
Authorities were keen to stress that no firearm was obtained.
But if the attack had been successful the human cost would have been “catastrophic … horrendous”, Mr. Patton said.
Since 2014, when the national threat terrorism level was raised to “probable”, the AFP has worked with its state and territory partners to thwart 14 plots.
So far, 74 people have been charged as a result of 347 counter-terrorist investigations.
Three men are due to stand trial in March for their alleged terror plot targeting Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station, Federation Square and St Paul’s Cathedral during Christmas 2016.
“There is no ongoing threat posed with respect to New Year’s Eve, Christmas or any other area,” Mr. Patton said.
But asked if there of the ongoing threat to Australians, Mr. Keenan said: “it’s impossible for us to provide blanket guarantees”.