Five Australian terror suspects charged with trying to travel to Syria by boat

Story highlights

  • Five men charged with preparing to enter a foreign country "for the purpose of engaging in hostile activities"
  • Men were accused of plotting to leave Australia by boat to become fighters in Syria
  • Their passports had been canceled because they had suspected links to terrorism

(CNN)Australian police have charged five men suspected of planning to travel to Syria to join ISIS.

The five men, who were on a terror watch list, were planning a journey that would have started in a small motor boat, taking them to Indonesia and the Philippines.
    They have been charged with foreign incursion offenses, according to Attorney-General for Australia George Brandis.
    The men, aged between 21 and 31, were charged on Saturday with preparing to enter a foreign country "for the purpose of engaging in hostile activities," an offense that carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
    "The primary focus of the investigation is [and] has been to prevent the crime of foreign incursion," Brandis told journalists at a press conference in Brisbane.
    "That is the crime that is committed when people travel from Australia to participate in a civil war or terrorist war fighting overseas, as it will be alleged these five men were preparing to do."
    The men had been under surveillance "for some time," according to Brandis, and had had their travel documents canceled.

    Sea escape

    As the suspects' passports had been canceled, their only option to leave Australia was by sea. They were found with a seven-meter fiberglass cabin cruiser allegedly bought to make the trip.
    "We have information to suggest these men had purchased a boat in Victoria, and had driven to far north Queensland, where their intention was to depart Australia," Australian Federal Police Deputy Commissioner Neil Gaughan told reporters in a press conference late last week, after the men had been apprehended.
    The interior of the boat authorities say the five men were planning to use to escape Australia.
    He said that the men had been under investigation for "a number of weeks." Police swooped to arrest them near the northern Queensland city of Cairns.
    CNN affiliate Seven News reports that their first likely port of call would have been Indonesia, 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) from northern Queensland. Images of the boat's interior obtained by the network show just one plastic-wrapped case of bottled water for the five men.

    'Serious attempt' to exit Australia

    Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton suggested that the five were committed to joining extremist groups overseas, pointing to Syria as a likely final destination.
    "This is a serious attempt by five men, who are of security interest to us, who have had their passports canceled, in attempting to exit Australia, so that they can make their way through boat, and then ultimately, we are investigating the intention to possibly end up in Syria to fight," he said.
    He acknowledged that some members of the public may see letting the five "take their chances in the waves" to be the best course of action, but said that authorities cannot allow Australians "to support terrorism anywhere."
    He said that if the suspects were to make it to Syria they could come back "battle hardened," highly skilled and further radicalized, representing an even greater threat to Australians.

    Problem with radicalized teens

    Australian teen charged over alleged terror plot
    Australian teen charged over alleged terror plot


      Australian teen charged over alleged terror plot


    Australian teen charged over alleged terror plot 01:08
    Last month, New South Wales police arrested a 16-year-old boy in Sydney on suspicion of plotting a terror attack on an Anzac Day ceremony, a similar narrative to arrests made a year ago, when five young men were arrested in Melbourne ahead of a 2015 Anzac ceremony, in what police then called a major counter terrorism operation.
    Other Australian teens have been seduced by the lure of extremism, including Abdullah Elmir, a 17-year-old Australian who allegedly fled to Syria before appearing in an ISIS propaganda video vowing to raise the ISIS flag over the White House.
    About 100 people have left Australia for Syria to fight alongside organizations such as Islamic State, Australia's immigration minister said last month.