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Australia Launches Major Anti-Terror Operation

Associated Press
Monday, 3 Aug 2009 | 7:59 PM ET

Australian police launched a major anti-terrorism operation on Tuesday, arresting four men they said were part of a terrorist cell that was planning to launch a suicide attack on several Army bases in the country.

The Melbourne-based group was believed to be linked to an Islamic extremist group in Somalia, al-Shabaab, and had planned to use automatic weapons in their attack, Australian Federal Police Acting Commissioner Tony Negus said.

"The men's intention was to actually go into the Army barracks and to kill as many soldiers as they could before they themselves were killed," Negus told reporters in the southern city of Melbourne.

The men were arrested after about 400 officers from state and national security services took part in 19 pre-dawn raids on properties in Melbourne, Negus said. They were to appear in court later Tuesday.

"This operation has disrupted an alleged terrorist attack that could have claimed many lives," Negus said.

The men arrested are Australian citizens ranging in age from 22 to 26, Victoria state police said. Several others were being questioned Tuesday.

The group had been under investigation since January, Negus said.

The United States has designated al-Shabaab a foreign terrorist organization. The U.S. State Department's annual terrorism report in April said al-Shabaab was providing a safe haven to al-Qaida "elements" wanted for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.