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Australia ramps up airport security after alleged plane bomb plot

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Stricter screening of passengers and luggage at Australian airports will stay in place indefinitely after police foiled an alleged “Islamic-inspired” plot to bring down a plane, which local media said may have involved a bomb or poisonous gas.

The ramped up security procedures were put in place after four men were arrested at the weekend in raids conducted across several Sydney suburbs.

The men are being held without charge under special terror-related powers.

The Australian Federal Police would not confirm media reports the alleged plot may have involved a bomb disguised in a meat grinder or the planned release of poisonous gas inside a plane.

Australian Federal Police (AFP) Commissioner Andrew Colvin told reporters on Monday that the plot specifics were still being investigated.

“What you are seeing at the moment is making sure that there is extra vigilance, to make sure that we aren’t cutting any corners in our security, to make sure that we are absolutely focussed on our security,” Colvin said.

Police on Monday were still searching several Sydney properties for evidence . Pictures showed forensic-specialist officers wearing masks and plastic jumpsuits inside the properties and combing through rubbish bins outside.

Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton told reporters in Melbourne on Monday that the alleged plot to down an aircraft could prompt longer-term airport security changes.

“The security measures at the airports will be in place for as long as we believe they need to be, so it may go on for some time yet,” said Dutton.

Australian police search items seized from a property during a raid in the Sydney suburb of Lakemba, Australia, July 31, 2017 . AAP/Paul Miller/via REUTERS

“It may be that we need to look at the security settings at our airports, in particular our domestic airports, for an ongoing enduring period,” he said.

Dutton advised passengers to arrive at airports three hours before international flights and two hours for domestic flights in order to clear the heightened security.

Inter-state travellers are subjected to far less scrutiny than those travelling abroad with no formal identification checks required for domestic trips.

Passengers at major Australian airports, including Sydney, experienced longer-than-usual queues during the busy Monday morning travel period .

A Reuters witness said the queues had disappeared at Sydney Airport by lunch-time.

A source at a major Australian carrier said airlines and airports had been instructed by the government to ramp up baggage checks as a result of the threat, with some luggage searches now being conducted as passengers queued to check in their bags.

Counter-terrorism police have conducted several recent raids, heightening tensions in a country that has had very few domestic attacks.

On Monday, three males pleaded guilty in the New South Wales state Supreme Court to “conspiracy to commit acts in preparation for a terrorist act or acts” in 2014, a court spokeswoman said, while another two pleaded guilty to lesser charges.

Police previously said the men planned an attack on targets which included the AFP headquarters in Sydney, along with civilian targets . The offences are not related to the alleged plane bomb plot.

The 2014 Lindt cafe siege in Sydney, in which the hostage-taker and two people were killed, was Australia’s most deadly violence inspired by Islamic State militants.

Reporting by Tom Westbrook in SYDNEY . Additional reporting by Byron Kaye and Jason Reed in SYDNEY and Jamie Freed in SINGAPORE .

Writing by Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Michael Perry

Hamburg attacker was known to security forces

HAMBURG (Reuters) – The migrant who killed one person and injured six others in a knife attack in a Hamburg supermarket was a radicalised Islamist known to German security agencies, but also believed to have psychological problems.

Officials said on Saturday the agencies had believed he posed no immediate threat.

A security lapse in a second deadly militant attack in less than a year, and two months before the general election, would be highly embarrassing for German intelligence, especially since security is a main theme in the Sept .

24 vote.

A Tunisian failed asylum seeker killed 12 people by driving a truck into a Christmas market in Berlin in December, slipping through the net after intelligence officers who had monitored him reached the conclusion he was no threat.

Hamburg Interior Minister Andy Grote told a news conference that Friday’s 26-year-old attacker was registered in intelligence systems as an Islamist but not a violent one as there was no evidence to link him to an imminent attack.

He also said the attacker, a Palestinian asylum seeker who could not be deported as he lacked identification documents, was psychologically unstable . Police said on Friday the man was born in United Arab Emirates.

The Palestinian mission in Berlin had agreed to issue him with documents and he had agreed to leave Germany once these were ready, a process that takes a few months.

“What we can say of the motive of the attacker at the moment is that on the one side there are indications that he acted based on religious Islamist motives, and on the other hand there are indications of psychological instability,” Grote said.

Security forces and ambulances are seen after a knife attack in a supermarket in Hamburg, Germany, July 28, 2017.Morris Mac Matzen

“The attacker was known to security forces . There was information that he had been radicalised,” he said.

“As far as we know .. .

there were no grounds to assess him as an immediate danger . He was a suspected Islamist and was recorded as such in the appropriate systems, not as a jihadist but as an Islamist.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is on a summer vacation and is seeking a fourth term in office in September, praised the civil courage of Hamburg residents who threw chairs and other objects at the attack, helping police to detain him.

Police investigators work at the crime scene after a knife attack in a supermarket in Hamburg, Germany, July 28, 2017.Morris Mac Matzen

“This violent crime must and will be investigated,” she said in a statement. “I thank the police for their effort and all those who stood up against the attacker with civil courage and bravery.”

Merkel’s decision in 2015 to open Germany’s doors to more than one million of mainly Muslim migrants has sparked a debate about the need to spend more on policing and security and contributed to the rise of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) populist party.

Yet her conservatives have recovered from losses in regional elections last year and are in a leading position to win the general election . Opinion polls put them 13-17 percentage points ahead of the centre-left Social Democrats.

The Hamburg attack did not feature on the front pages of most major broadsheets, which dedicated their coverage to the emissions scandal engulfing the German car industry.

Prosecutors said the attacker pulled a 20 cm (7.9 inch) knife from a shelf at the supermarket and stabbed three people inside and four outside .

A 50-year-old man died of his injuries.

Prosecutors said the attacker, who had not been named, appeared on police records in April after he was caught stealing in a shop but he was convicted of no crime given the petty nature of his offence.

Writing by Joseph Nasr in Berlin; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt

Three Palestinians killed in Jerusalem amid clashes over holy site

Three Palestinians have been killed in East Jerusalem near to the Old City where Israeli forces have clashed with Muslim worshippers, the Palestinian health ministry said. One victim was shot dead and a 17-year-old was also killed, according to a hospital spokesman and the ministry. Details of the third death are currently unclear. The violence erupted over a ban on Muslim men under the age of 50 entering the al Aqsa mosque and the installation of metal detectors. There have been almost daily clashes between Israeli officers and Palestinians at the entrances to the site – considered sacred by both Muslims and Jews.

Image: Muslim worshippers ran for cover from the tear gas fired by Israeli forces

Protesters on Friday ran for cover from tear gas as tensions continued to rise amid an ongoing dispute over access. Israeli forces used tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets to try to disperse crowds hurling stones and bottles. Palestinian authorities claimed live ammunition was also used. Four officers were hurt in the violence, said the Israeli military. Extra security measures were put in place at the complex – known as the Temple Mount by Jews and the Noble Sanctuary by Muslims – after three Arab Israelis attacked a patrol near Lion’s Gate a week ago, killing two policemen. The three attackers, from the city of Umm al Fahm, were all killed by Israeli security forces. Religious clerics from the Waqf – the Jordanian trust which manages the site – called for mass protests at Friday noon prayers.

Image: Muslim clerics and Israeli guards outside the al Aqsa mosque

They asked every mosque in the city to close and worshippers were urged to instead pray outside the gates of al Aqsa rather than submit to the security procedures. “Entry to the Old City and Temple Mount will be limited to men aged 50 and over . Women of all ages will be permitted,” an Israeli police statement said. Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said 3,000 members of the security forces had been deployed to the area. Access to the compound is already difficult – or impossible – for many Palestinians. Under the status quo – which dates back to the Ottoman period – only Muslims have the right to worship on the plaza, although Jews and people from other faiths can visit. Different residency rights have been introduced by Israel since it captured the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Image: Metal detectors were installed after a deadly attack

Since Israel captured the Old City it has remained committed to that formula. However, Palestinians claim the extra security measures represent a change and a further erosion of their rights to access to the holy site. Every night for the last week Palestinians have been refusing to go through the metal detectors and have instead been conducting prayers on the street.

Israel asserts there is no change to the status quo and that the metal detectors are necessary to stop further attacks.