Australian authorities this week prevented two Islamic State atrocities by one group of suspects.
The first involved a bomb that was to be hidden in airline luggage. According to Australian federal police, an ISIS handler in Syria sent two suspects a military-grade explosive via air cargo shipment from Turkey. One of the suspects had been communicating with that handler since April. One suspect then hid the explosives in a kitchen meat grinder and put it in his brother's bag.
That unwitting brother was to carry his bag onto a July 15 Etihad Airlines flight from Sydney airport to Abu Dhabi. He didn't know what was in his bag and was probably told to deliver the meat grinder to a friend in Abu Dhabi. The effort failed because, due the excess weight of the kitchen meat grinder, the bag was too heavy to check-in.
Had it gotten through, hundreds of people would have died somewhere over the Indian Ocean.
Still, it's notable that an Etihad flight was targeted. As a UAE based airline, Etihad is despised by ISIS. In contrast to their affection for Qatar and the terrorist fundraising that goes on there, ISIS regards the UAE as Sunni traitors against Islam. Second, via its connections in Abu Dhabi, Etihad flies to many international destinations from Sydney. Consequently, there were likely Americans or Britons on the targeted flight.
Regardless, the suspects did not give up when the airline attack failed. Instead, they were directed to build a hydrogen-sulfide-based chemical weapon and then detonate it in an enclosed space. This is notable in that ISIS has long fetishized chemical weapons attacks.
However, before the second plot could come to fruition, the suspects were arrested. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, that's because British and US intelligence services intercepted communications between the suspects and their handler in Syria. That would figure. As I explained following another Australian-originating plot in 2014, the NSA and GCHQ provide constant signal intelligence to Australia.
Nevertheless, this is a troubling case. What's most interesting here is the degree of ISIS direction and sophistication. In smuggling military-grade explosives to Australia via cargo flights, in directing the suspects how to build those weapons, and in targeting aircraft via hidden devices, this effort rivals the November 2015 Paris attacks in its ambition. Indeed, it would have killed many more people than the Paris attacks had it succeeded.
This plot also explains why the US government temporarily banned laptops from Middle East originating flights. I expect new bans linger over the horizon. ISIS puts an extremely high priority on attacking targets in the west. The ISIS units responsible for effecting these attacks are highly secretive, meticulous in their operational security, and patient. At some point, they will likely succeed.
Again, the aircraft bomb was only defeated by its own weight. By successfully constructing the device and getting it to the airport, ISIS has shown it can put hidden explosive devices onto western passenger flights. In this, it is clear that ISIS has improved the security of its airline-focused bomb units since President Trump's leak of a Jordanian or Israeli hack into those cells computer networks.
Finally, we must assume that if ISIS can put this sort of plot into effect in Australia, it is also attempting to do so in other western nations.