Australia thwarts Christmas Day terror attack on Melbourne cathedral and other landmarks

Terrorists targeted locations such as Melbourne's Flinders Street train station, Federation Square and St Paul's Cathedral.

Australia foils Christmas Day terror attack in Melbourne
FILE PHOTO: A pedestrian walks past Flinders Street train station in Melbourne, Australia May 11, 2011. REUTERS/Mick Tsikas/File Photo

A terror plot inspired by the Islamic State group has been thwarted by the Australian police. A series of arrests unraveled the plot to launch a Christmas Day terror strike, the Victoria police said. All the suspects arrested are "self-radicalised" Australian citizens inspired by the Islamic State propaganda, police added.

Police said the terrorists targeted important locations such as Melbourne's Flinders Street train station, Federation Square and St Paul's Cathedral. The plotters were planning to use explosives, guns and knives.

"Over the last fortnight ... we have had to conduct a criminal investigation relating to the formation of what we believe was a terrorist plot," Victoria Police chief commissioner Graham Ashton said, according to AFP.

"We believe that there was an intention to conduct what we call a multi-mode attack, possibly on Christmas Day. The attack that we will allege was being planned, we believe was going to involve an explosive event, the use of explosives, and we gathered evidence to support that," the police chief added.

Police arrested the suspects after weeks-long surveillance. Of the five people in custody four are Australian-born young men of Lebanese origin and the fifth is an Egyptian-born Australian citizen.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the terrorists wanted to frighten Australians and turn them against each other. "They want to frighten Australians, they want to divide Australians, they want us to turn on each other ... But we will not let them," he said.

Turnbull said this was one of the most substantial terrorist plots that have been disrupted over the last several years in the country. "We are approaching the Christmas season, a time when we come together in peace and love, with our families. These terrorists sought to disrupt it. They have been thwarted. They are in custody. They are no longer a threat to Australians' security."

The targets were all in the vicinity of the Melbourne Cricket Ground where the Boxing Day Test match between Australia and Pakistan will kick off on 26 December with up to 100,000 people in attendance.

Australia has been in high alert after an Islamic State-claimed attack in German capital Berlin killed 12 people at a famous Christmas market. More than 400 officers from Victoria Police and the Australian Federal Police joined the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation in the operations that led to the arrest of the suspected militants.