Suspected mastermind behind Sydney plane bomb plot captured in Iraq

Published: 18 April 2018

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An Islamic State commander and suspected ringleader behind a foiled plot to blow up a plane in Sydney last year, and his Australian relative, have been captured in Iraq, Ten Eyewitness News has confirmed.

Alleged plot mastermind Tarek Khayet, and IS fighter Ahmed Merhi, were detained earlier this year. The duo is believed to be linked to one of the country’s most notorious terror cells.

While declining to name Merhi – citing the Privacy Act - Defence Minister Marise Payne confirmed the arrest of an Australian citizen.

”I can advise that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is providing consular assistance in accordance with the Consular Services charter,” she said.

Merhi’s sister Linda was arrested earlier this year, and accused of sending $30,000 to her brother.

While in Syria, Khayat is alleged to have directed his Sydney-based brothers to assemble and smuggle a bomb hidden inside a meat grinder onto an Etihad plane destined for Abu Dhabi on July 15 last year.

The device, a "high-end military-grade explosive," was placed inside a passenger’s luggage but never managed to breach airline security, after airport staff at Sydney’s International Airport weighed the luggage and found it was too heavy. The bag was never checked in or carried onto the plane and police have said the device was later dismantled.

The foiled plot sent shockwaves through Australia and left police scrambling after it was revealed authorities were only tipped off about the plan 11 days later.

Last year, the Australian Federal Police carried out raids in Surry Hills, Wiley Park, Lakemaba and Punchbowl and charged Khaled and Mahmoud Khayat over the plot.

Police said it was “one of the most sophisticated plots that has ever been attempted on Australian soil.”

Authorities allege a second plan was also hatched to create a toxic hydrogen sulphide bomb, but believe that plot was foiled before the device was close to being functional.

The most recent arrests were reportedly kept secret because of diplomatic sensitivities surrounding the case.