Two ISIS supporters arrested in Australia for planning a public beheading in Sydney

SMH quoted defense lawyers to say that the case against Azari is based on one intercepted phone call, which the prosecution said was what triggered the operation. When asked about reports that there were plans to conduct a public beheading in Australia, Abbott replied: “That’s the intelligence we received.”

“The exhortations, quite direct exhortations, were coming from an Australian, who is apparently quite senior in ISIL, to networks of support back in Australia to conduct demonstration killings here in this country.

“So this is not just suspicion, this is intent and that’s why the police and security agencies decided to act in the way they have,” he told reporters.

Abbott dismissed the notion that Australia’s renewed involvement in Iraq would increase the likelihood of terror attacks against Australian targets. He noted that Australia was targeted in Bali in 2002 before any involvement in the previous Iraq war.

“These people, I regret to say, do not hate us for what we do, they hate us for who we are and how we live. That’s what makes us a target, the fact that we are different from their view of what an ideal society should look like, the fact that we are free, we are pluralist, we are tolerant, we are welcoming, we are accepting,” he said.

“All of these, in their eyes, are wrong and that’s what makes us a target and that’s something that should never change about us. We should always be a free, fair, open and tolerant country.”

AFP Acting Commissioner Andrew Colvin said a violent attack had been planned for “the streets of New South Wales.”

Reports in Australia said the plan was to kidnap someone from the street and behead them in public while filming it.

SMH notes that the pre-dawn raids in Sydney were conducted simultaneously, but were not directly related to, raids in Queensland with police saying the raids south of Brisbane were in relation to a counterterrorism raid last week, when two people were arrested and charged.

The New South Wales police commissioner, Andrew Scipione, said the operation reflected the strength and capability of Australia’s counterterrorism forces.

“Our police will continue to work tirelessly to prevent any such attacks but certainly can I stress that right now, is a time for calm. We don’t need to whip this up.”

He said it would become apparent through the courts what was going to happen.

He added that some of those arrested have had their passports cancelled because they were planning to travel to Syria or Iraq.

“This is the largest operation of its type undertaken in Australia’s history,” AFP’s Colvin said.

“I think the message that we need to make clear here is that police are working very hard across this country and are very well coordinated and the community should have absolute confidence in the work of their law enforcement security agencies to work together.

“While the raids in Queensland are not directly related to what has happened here today in NSW, as I said before, the investigations continue and we are looking at the linkages between the two.”

NSW premier Mike Baird delivered warned would-be terrorists that there would be no escape from the authorities.

“We will hunt you down,” he said on Thursday. “If you have any intent to bring overseas conflicts here, if you have any intent to threaten the security of this community, we will hunt you down.”

When asked if the prime minister was aware of the alleged planned attacks, Colvin said, “Clearly you would understand that all levels of government need to understand what the national security threat in this country is. We have regular and ongoing briefings with all levels of government including the prime minister on the generic aspects of the national counter-terrorism threat, the national security threat.”

He added: “I don’t think anyone would be surprised it’s in the interests that the PM and political leaders have an understanding of what is going on.”

The Australian government, following the advice of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, last week raised its terrorism threat level from “medium” to “high” on a four-tier scale. David Irvine, the director-general of the domestic spy agency, said the threat had been rising over the past year, mainly due to Australians joining ISIS to fight in Syria and Iraq.

The government says about 100 Australians are actively engaged in activities within Australia aiming to support extremist Islamist groups — recruiting fighters, grooming suicide bomber candidates, and providing funds and equipment.