October 29, 2014 / 2:43 AM / 3 years ago

Mastermind of failed Australia beheading plot killed in Middle East: reports

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A former Sydney bouncer said to have masterminded a failed plot by Islamic State militants to behead a random member of the public in Australia is believed to have died in the Middle East, Australian media reported on Wednesday.

Mohammad Ali Baryalei, who was believed to be one of the group's most senior members and a top recruiter of foreign fighters, was thought to have died in fighting in Syria or Iraq four or five days ago, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

"We are currently seeking to verify those reports, so I can't confirm them at this stage," Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told reporters.

A spokesman for Attorney General George Brandis declined to comment on reports of his death.

Abdul Salaam Mahmoud, who belonged to the same street-proselytizing group as Baryalei in Sydney, wrote on Facebook of Baryalei's death, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported.

"I've just received the news that our beloved brother Mohamed Ali who was recently strongly attacked by Australian media has been martyred," Mahmoud said.

More than 800 police raided homes in Sydney and Brisbane in September as part of a sweeping counter-terrorism operation aimed at stopping what the government said was a plot to kidnap and publicly behead a random Australian citizen.

Australia is concerned over the number of its citizens believed to be fighting overseas with militant groups, including a suicide bomber who killed three people in Baghdad in July and two men shown in images on social media holding the severed heads of Syrian soldiers.

Reporting by Matt Siegel; Editing by Jeremy Laurence

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