Police in Australia said they have foiled a terror plot “inspired by ISIS” in which assailants were planning to target a prominent public places in Melbourne, a city still reeling from a deadly attack two weeks ago.
Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton said Tuesday that three people had been arrested in connection with the plot. Their planned attack hadn’t been finalized, but the men had been intending to target a prominent public place.
“There was a view towards a crowded place, a place where maximum people would be attending to be able to kill, we allege, kill a maximum amount of people as possible,” Ashton told reporters at a news conference Tuesday.
The three men, aged 21, 26 and 30, were Australian nationals of Turkish background, Ashton said, all of whom had had their passports canceled by federal agencies in the past year.
He said the three men had been under investigation since March but in recent days they’d attempted to buy a .22 semi-automatic rifle for use in the alleged plot.
“Certainly, inspired by ISIS, we know that and recently over about the last week we’ve become a lot more energized,” Ashton said.
Two of the suspects had no criminal history, while a third had only been cited for a minor offense, CNN affiliate Nine News Australia reported.
The arrests come as scores of Victorians gathered to mourn Sisto Malaspina, who was stabbed to death in a terror attack two weeks ago in Melbourne’s central business district.
Malaspina, the co-owner of the popular Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar, received a state funeral Tuesday. Among those in attendance were Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews, Bill Shorten — the leader of the opposition Australian Labor Party and a member of Parliament who was born and educated in Melbourne — and Melbourne Mayor Sally Capp, according to Nine News.
Malaspina was killed by 30-year-old Hassan Khalid Shire Ali, who stabbed three people in an incident police said was also “inspired by ISIS.” His other two victims survived the attack.
Ali drove a truck full of gas canisters into a crowded street on November 9 but the canisters failed to explode as planned.
After stabbing the trio, Shire Ali was shot dead by police after a dramatic stand off. The attacker’s passport had been canceled in 2015 after he had planned to fly to Syria.
Australian Federal Police (AFP) said there was no suggestion the newly foiled attack was directed by ISIS.
“If we had not acted early in preventing this attack we will allege that the consequences would have been chilling … with a potential significant loss of life,” AFP Assistant Commissioner Ian McCartney said.