An improvised explosive device (IED) two men planned to smuggle onto an Etihad Airways flight from Sydney would have been picked up by airport security measures, according to police.
Sydney men Khaled Khayat and Mahmoud Khayat are alleged to have attempted to plant an IED on an Etihad Airways flight from Sydney Airport on July 15, smuggled in the luggage – unbeknownst to him – of a brother of one of the men.
They were two of four men who were taken into custody following joint Australian Federal Police and NSW Police Force raids in Sydney on Saturday. A third man was released from police custody without charge on Tuesday, while the fourth remains in custody.
At a press conference in Sydney on Friday morning Australian Federal Police deputy commissioner Michael Phelan revealed that the attempt to place the IED on the flight was “aborted”.
“At no stage did the IED breach airline security,” deputy commissioner Phelan said.
Components for the IED, which deputy commissioner Phelan said was assembled into a “functioning IED”, had been sent to Australia from Turkey via air freight.
After the aborted attempt to place the IED, which featured “high military grade” explosives, the men then planned to use the device to instead build an “improvised chemical dispersion device”, intended to release “toxic hydrogen sulphide” in a crowded public space such as on public transport.
Why the attempt to place the IED onboard the Etihad flight was aborted is unclear.
“It didn’t get past the check-in,” deputy commissioner Phelan said.
“Now there’s been some conjecture that it relates to the weight of the bag [containing the IED], that’s one of the components, but we’re still working through that.”
While that suggests the bag containing the IED, which itself was hidden within a meat grinder, may have proven too heavy to be checked in, if it had been, the device would have been detected, deputy commissioner Phelan told media.
“One thing it is important to note is that it did not get past security, it did not make it past the security envelope at the airport. The security envelopes that we have at the airport are multi-layered and in our country are extremely robust and good.”
Deputy commissioner Phelan said police subsequently constructed a mock-up of the IED “and we went ahead and did penetration testing of all of the systems post the checkin for bags to get on to the airport.”
“We had a 100 per cent success rate in terms of our mock IED being picked up,” he said.
“We are extremely confident, that given the systems that we have in this country, that that IED would have been picked up by security.”
Etihad Airways operates twice daily between Sydney and Abu Dhabi, with the EY450/EY451 Abu Dhabi-Sydney-Abu Dhabi rotation currently operated by 328-seat Boeing 777-300ERs, while the EY454/EY455 Abu Dhabi-Sydney-Abu Dhabi service is operated by 496-seat Airbus A380s.
Earlier in the week Eithad said it was assisting Australian police with its investigations into the incident.
“The Etihad Airways aviation security team is assisting the Australian Federal Police with its investigation and the matter is ongoing,” the airline said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Etihad is complying fully with the enhanced security measures at airports in Australia and is monitoring the situation closely.”
Extra security screening introduced at Australia’s airports on the weekend in the wake of the police raids was eased on Thursday evening after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced in a statement that “the threat posed by the recent plot to bring down an aeroplane has been disrupted and contained.”