SYDNEY, Aug 21 – Australia on Friday listed Somalia’s Shabab extremists as a terror organisation after five men allegedly linked to the group were charged with planning a suicide assault on a Sydney army barracks.
Foreign Minister Stephen Smith issued a special notice in the official gazette outlawing the Al-Qaeda-inspired group that Australian police say was linked to a plot uncovered earlier this month.
The prime minister and foreign minister’s offices declined to comment when contacted by AFP and a spokesman for the attorney-general could not immediately be contacted.
Shabab has denied any connection to the alleged suicide plot or to the men charged, at least three of whom are of Somali origin while another is accused of having travelled to the African country to fight and train there.
But the government had been under pressure to ban the group, which has been listed as a terror organisation in the United States since February 2008, following the August 4 arrests of the men in Melbourne.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said at the time Australia was considering listing Shabab as a terrorist organisation but had delayed acting for fear of compromising the police operation, which had been running since January.
"This has been the subject of some internal deliberation within the government… for a period of time," Rudd said on August 5.
Police say the men planned to storm Sydney’s Holsworthy army base, home to thousands of troops including a major anti-extremist unit, with firearms in what would have been Australia’s worst militant attack.
Prosecutors claim the men wanted to become "martyrs" and sought a fatwa, or religious ruling, to justify their actions.
"The alleged offenders were prepared to inflict a sustained attack on military personnel until they themselves were killed," said Tony Negus, acting chief commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, following the arrests.
"The men’s intention was to go into these army barracks and to kill as many people as possible… This would have been, if it had been able to be carried out, the most serious attack on Australian soil."
The hardline Shabab group is engaged in a deadly military offensive against Somalia’s internationally-backed government.
In recent months, the Shabab group has increasingly resorted to recruiting foreign jihadi fighters and members of the Somali diaspora but is not known to have actively taken part in terrorist attacks on foreign soil.
Many of its members nevertheless proclaim their allegiance to Al-Qaeda, whose leaders have repeatedly urged fighters there to take the jihad (holy war) beyond the borders of Somalia, a country with a large diaspora.