SYDNEY – Australian counterterrorism police arrested 42-year-old Haisem Zahab, after a raid on a countryside property on Tuesday and accused him of seeking to help the Islamic State group by developing missile technology, the first arrest of its kind in Australia.
Dozens of police, including a dog squad and some officers with metal detectors, raided a property in Young, about 270 km (170 miles) southwest of Sydney, earlier on Tuesday, pictures on Australian Reuters showed.
Australian Federal Police (AFP) Assistant Commissioner Counter Terrorism Ian McCartney said the arrest followed more than 18 months of complex investigations.
“We know that gathering evidence in these cases takes a considerable amount of time, and I would like to thank our officers for their commitment and dedication in pursuing this operation,” he said.
“Make no mistake, anyone allegedly supporting foreign fighters – whether through travelling to conflict zones, or by their actions here on Australian soil – remain firmly in the sights of law enforcement.”
Police stressed today’s arrest did not relate to any planned terrorist attack in Australia.
The Australian-born Haisem Zahab, was trained as an electrician and solar panel installer from the rural New South Wales town of Young , he is expected to face court later on Tuesday, police said.
The arrest of Haisem Zahab is understood to be linked to an Australian Federal Police investigation into a relative charged by Kuwaiti authorities with trying to supply Islamic State with surface-to-air missiles.
The Australian reported in January the AFP suspected the family of “using international travel cards and a computer consulting company based in the Middle East to remit funds out of Australia for the use and benefit of Islamic State”.
The AFP seized $500,000 from Hicham Zahab in 2015 his wife Aminah, son Muhammad and daughter-in-law Mariam Raad under proceeds of crime laws.
McCartney told The Australain Mr. Zahab would be charged with a number of offences, including serious foreign incursion offences under the commonwealth criminal code which carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
The Islamic State group has come under sustained attack in recent weeks from coalition air strikes, which have seen the group lose much of its foothold in Syria and Iraq.
Australian air force planes have been involved in some of those strikes against the group.
A staunch U.S. ally, Australia also sent troops to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq and has been on heightened alert for attacks by home-grown radicals since 2014.
While authorities say they have thwarted a number of plots in recent years, particularly involving radicalize teenagers, Australia had not yet made any arrests of individuals accused of offering such technical assistance to an extremist group.
About 100 people have left Australia for Syria to fight alongside groups such as Islamic State, Australia’s immigration minister said last year.
There have also been several “lone wolf” assaults, including a 2014 cafe siege in Sydney in which two hostages and a gunman were killed, and the killing of a police accountant in 2015.
Colin Packham – Reuters
Rachel Baxendal – The Australian