1 of 4 suspected Sydney Islamic airline plotters released

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — One of four men arrested in Sydney at the weekend on suspicion of plotting to bring down an airliner in an Islamic terror attack has been released without charge, police said on Wednesday.

The 50-year-old man, who was not named, was released from police custody on Tuesday night, an Australian Federal Police statement said. “This investigation remains ongoing and further information will be provided at an appropriate time,” the statement said.

The four Lebanese-Australian men, including at least one father and son, were arrested late Saturday in coordinated police raids at five homes across Sydney that also reportedly seized a meat grinder that investigators suspect could be the basis of a bomb.

A court has allowed police to hold the men for seven days without charge under counterterrorism laws designed to prevent an attack.

Related: Australia airport security stays heighted over terror plot

Australian officials will not comment on reports that the arrests followed a tip from U.S. or British intelligence agencies that had intercepted communications from Syria.

Australian authorities have said they thwarted a credible terrorist plot to down an airplane by smuggling a device onboard. They have provided few details, including the precise nature of the threat or any airlines involved.

The United Arab Emirates’ national airline said on Tuesday that it is working with Australian police in their investigation, suggesting it may have been a potential target.

Etihad Airways, the smallest of three long-haul Gulf carriers that fly to Australia, confirmed its involvement in the probe in a brief statement.

“The Etihad Airways aviation security team is assisting the Australian Federal Police with its investigation and the matter is ongoing,” it said. “Etihad is complying fully with the enhanced security measures at airports in Australia and monitoring the situation closely. Safety is the airline’s number one priority.”

The Abu Dhabi-based carrier refused to elaborate on its role in the probe or confirm whether one of its planes was targeted.

Etihad operates direct flights to four Australian cities: Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. The airline has built strong ties to the country, buying a stake in alliance partner Virgin Australia, featuring down-under stars including Nicole Kidman in advertising campaigns and sponsoring Melbourne’s soccer team and its home stadium.

Related: Police disrupt plot in Australia to ‘bring down an airplane’

Australian media outlets have reported that the conspirators wanted to target a flight to the Middle East, possibly the Emirati city of Dubai, but they failed to get the device onboard, so they changed their focus to an Australian domestic airline.

Etihad’s hub in Abu Dhabi is 130 kilometers (80 miles) from Dubai’s main airport, the world’s busiest for international flights.

Dubai-based Emirates, the largest Mideast carrier, said its Australia flights are subject to additional security procedures. But it did not say whether it is involved in the investigation.

“Emirates is cooperating fully with the relevant entities to implement the additional measures,” it said in a statement.

Australia’s Nine Network television reported on Tuesday that one of the suspects had tried to check in on an international flight, and that might have been a test run to see if they could get a meat grinder on board as carry-on luggage.

Officials have refused to comment on media reports that the plot was to conceal explosives or chemicals that would emit toxic gas inside a piece of kitchen equipment.


Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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