SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian police raided homes in Melbourne on Tuesday and charged one man with funding a terrorist organization in a crackdown on radical Islamists who authorities believe are supporting Middle East militants or planning attacks at home.
The operation, following information from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, was much smaller than raids earlier this month that authorities say thwarted a plan for a random beheading.
Australian police said they would accuse the unnamed 23-year-old, arrested on Tuesday, of having funneled around A$12,000 ($10,500) through a known and “proscribed terrorist organization” to a U.S. citizen.
“He had actually funded someone to travel from the United States to Syria and that person, we allege, is currently fighting in Syria,” Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan told reporters.
Last week, counter-terrorism police in Melbourne shot and killed an 18-year-old, identified as Abdul Numan Haider, after he attacked them with a knife.
Police said Tuesday’s raid was unrelated to that incident and there was no suggestion a further attack was planned.
Australia is concerned over the number of its citizens believed to be fighting with militant groups overseas, 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.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said at least 150 Australians are in the Middle East either fighting with, or supporting, Islamic State or other militant groups, a number that he said has increased in recent months.
At least 20 are believed by authorities to have returned to Australia and pose a security risk, and some 60 people have had their passports canceled.
The national security agency this month raised its four-tier threat level to “high” for the first time.
Prominent Australian Muslims say their community is being unfairly targeted by law enforcement agencies, and threatened by right-wing groups, because the government’s tough policies aimed at combating radical Islamists threaten to create a backlash.
Police said Haider’s family had received death threats after his shooting, while a man was arrested after allegedly carrying a large knife into a Muslim school in Sydney last week.
Australia has deployed troops and aircraft to the Middle East in preparation to join a U.S.-led coalition that has begun strikes against Islamic State militants. The Australian government is expected to sanction involvement of its forces in action in Iraq as early as Tuesday.
($1=1.1480 Australian dollar)
Editing by Cynthia Osterman, Paul Tait and Clarence Fernandez