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IED would have been detected by airport security – AFP

written by Gerard Frawley | August 4, 2017

File image of an Etihad A380 at Sydney Airport. (Seth Jaworski)

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.”

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Comments (18)

  • In the August issue of Australian Aviation there is a very interesting article on Page 62 entitled -Know your passengers with the eminently sensible comment that No one should be allowed to travel on a flight unless they have been identified. Currently as in a number of other countries including the US (but not in Europe, anyone can board a plane with just showing a boarding pass or in come cases just a Mobile phone image. I work for a Global Security Analyst company and Identity Validation and verification is increasingly an absolute must have for so many activities today. At Airports across Australia, all Airport workers , even the shop assistants working airside, have to have an Airport security identity card. Luckily there are plenty of potential solutions. In Queensland the State Government have for a number of years been rolling out a service called CIDM. This allows any Queensland citizen to apply for an online account to do business electronically with the government. One of the key items of identity in the process of doing the 100 point identity check (required for some transactions e.g. applying for a gun licence etc) is the use of the Queensland Drivers Licence. Unlike all other Australian States, Queensland is currently the only State in Australia which has a Chip based Drivers Licence with an image of the person encrypted on the licence using PKI and where Queensland Transport provides an Image verification process. So Virgin Australia (based in Queensland could potentially subject to negotiation with the State Government implement a trial for any Queensland er with a Drivers, Boat, Motorcycle etc licence to present it at time of boarding to verify their identity. Now Queensland has had this capability with a PKI based Drivers Licence in place for more than 10 years. We need an Australian wide adoption of PKI based Drivers licence. Just think about the myriad of other benefits. Knowing details of a persons identity , blood groups, doctors name etc at the scene of a road accident etc etc.

  • Paul Rodgers


    ID checks should be mandatory at the gate, our authorities need to know who is travelling, when and were.
    Not just for anti terrorism reasons, but a range of other issues as well, eg people suspected of moving quantities of illegal drugs.

  • Jack


    Sounds a lot like “The Australia Card” to me. Not that it matters greatly because I am pretty confident that all or most government departments can pull all the information they want from their computers anyway. We have virtually no privacy these days. Just wave at the nearest CCTV camera on your way out.

  • Greg


    If you look at the total number of ‘Regional Airports’ within Australia and the level of security at most of them; well it doesn’t exist. As an example there is to be soon a passenger service started from the ‘Illawarra Regional Airport’. at Albion Park Rail by an airline called ‘Jetgo’. I’m wondering if any security measures will be put in place at this airport and I can only suggest NO. The aircraft being used is a twin engined commuter type aircraft and with no if any security who’s to say that someone with the same intentions as these persons who intended to plant a explosive device on Etihad Airways aircraft could not do the same on one of these services.. I personally believe the AFP and the Federal Government should take every precaution at every airport, not just the main airports, no matter the cost as the safety of the travelling public should come first; bugger the cost.

  • Tony


    As an airline pilot in Australia I personally am more worried about a random lithium battery fire than a terrorist attack. If we are going to just keep throwing security at the issue why start with airlines. Why not buses, trains and ferries with iris scanners and constant cctv and security personnel. Its a bit ridiculous and our focus really needs to go on to other ways reducing the risk of terror attacks. Aviation already has so much security post 911 and if you think we should just keep going further with it ive got a better way to stay safe… let’s ground every aeroplane and have put a ccts camera in every house.

  • Greg;
    Actually the Australian Aviation security card system is in place at all Regional Airports offering RPT services. Even Christmas Island and the Cocos islands. That is anyone working at the Airport in any capacity (even the cleaners) must as a requirement of employment at any airport have and display an Aviation Security card. To get one, the person has to undergo a series of checks including Police Checks and Identity verification service check. What e ned is some sort of similar system for Passengers.

  • Max


    What Andrew says about Europe is simply not true. After many flights between various countries I can state that I have never seen anyone able to fly without showing a passport or identity card (often there are several checks before boarding).

  • Greg


    Andrew may believe what he is saying is true, but I know for a fact that the need of a Australian Aviation Security Card is not required at ‘Illawarra Regional Airport’. It was some years ago when Qantaslink flew RPT from that airport but since they stopped servicing that specific airport it is no longer a requirement. Also you have got to remember it’s the home airport of the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society, a very large Organisation with most of it’s members not holding a Australian Aviation Security Card and not only that being that the Society is a ‘volunteer’ organisation the cost of each individual paying for a card annually is quite prohibitive. .

  • Paul


    Jack,you can never have enough security.If that IED went off and a member of your family or close friend perished, I am sure you would retract your statement.

  • Enough is enough! We have lived on our luck for too long. What should happen now in domestic:
    1. Picture ID not older the 3 years issued by a government authority or passport at check-in and kiosks modified to take passports or ID as in other countries
    2. Photo ID and boarding card for same day required to go through search facility
    3. No “meeters and Greeters” in sanitised areas of terminals where only passengers and ASIC holders may enter
    4. Above will reduce numbers to be scanned and searched so search is more thorough
    5. Increased use of full body scanners
    6. Full face veils must be lifted
    7. Return to 100ml for liquids
    8. Random second checks of photo ID at boarding gate
    9. Xray of all goods for sale in sanitised area
    10. Issue of ASIC’s to be returned to Government and issue requires a personal interview
    11.No one is to enter airside areas without ASIC and no leeway for people joining companies and no visitor passes. This to apply to catering, engineering and freight facilities

    Now that’s a start and only 20 years late. The lobbying by the greedy retailers purporting to be airport operators must be resisted as they want as many people shopping in the terminal as possible to get their turnover over-rides.

  • Chris


    Call me doubtful Thomas but, the more I hear police spokesmen reassure the general public that they would have detected an IED being placed on board the more I am convinced it was just luck. If by no other parameter than the quality/IQ of some of the airport staff members. However happy, like many, I am with the ongoing status quo – may it continue.
    Not so optimistic

  • Raymond


    Very sensible comment Neil Hansford, thank you.

  • Paul


    I second that Neil.With security like that then,they will go after buses, trains, trams etc. I think the media plays so hard on it ,and then we get experts saying oh they are going to target other areas of interest because the security will be so tight at airports.Its actually scary to hear security experts saying they are going to target this and this now. It’s like they are giving the terrorists ideas! There should be little about it in the news and media , and try and keep it quite as possible to not give these people exposure! Just my view. Well done anyway to FIVE EYES for their hard work.

  • Dee Thom


    Am I missing something? why are these so called ISIS supporters attempting to blow up an aircraft of a Muslim based country such as the Emirates who are of the same religion, when American, European, and other non Muslim countries fly from our airports to various destinations around the world. I don’t understand why they wish to punish they’re own kind.

  • Paul Rummery


    I too wish that security was upgraded at all airports. However, as a passenger who has had a knee replaced it is embarrassing to have to be publicly checked down by airport security. I have had to take off trousers and shoes after explaining to them that I have had a knee replacement, but nothing I say helps with the next performance by these people. I wouldn’t mind if there was a secure enclosure for the examination to be done without the full view of the queue of passengers standing around staring. I was actually assaulted by a security official when I tried to lift my trouser leg to show the scar and to lessen my embarrassment. Paul

  • Paul


    Dee Thom, no one understands mate that’s the problem!!

  • A couple of comments.

    Greg what I stated was that an Aviation Security card is required at all regional airports where there are RPT services. I am not aware that Iliwarra Regional Airport has any RPT services currently. Bear in mind the legislation pertaining to the Aviation and Port Security cards only went into force a few years ago.

    Max what I said was that in Australia and the US you don’t need to present a means of identification on domestic flights. You do for International flights especially in Europe.
    What I forgot to do in my write up is put the close bracket after the words (not in Europe) If you read it carefully. it makes sense. My apologies for forgetting the close bracket.
    One very interesting item is that Australia Post launched a new service called DigitalID just this week. See the Australian Financial Review article ion Page 24 on the 8th August. This will effectively run Identity validation and verification services on behalf of businesses. So for Qantas it could insist that all passengers would need to have a Australia Post DigitalID as part of its boarding process or it could offer the service to its frequent flyers to speed up boarding, but require al other people to carry photo id.

  • Greg


    Andrew. As I have said a NEW RPT starts at the Illawarra Regional Airport this coming October. If you want to see for yourself, have at look at the Illawarra Mercury Newspaper ‘online’. So this is what I’m alluding too.
    The Local Council are still working out ‘what and who is going to do what’ but the Security is of a main concern as I stated in my earlier comment.

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