Five men have been arrested on suspicion of trying to leave Australia illegally on a small boat to sail to Indonesia. Officials believe the men wanted to join jihadis in Syria and 'engage in hostile acts.'
The men taken into custody had bought a seven-meter (23-foot) boat to make the trip to Indonesia, Australian Federal Police said Wednesday.
"The suspicion is that they were seeking to leave Australia by vessel to avoid the fact that they couldn't travel by air because their passports had been canceled," said Attorney-General George Brandis.
The group is suspected of having towed their power boat behind a car for 2,800 kilometers (1,700 miles) from Melbourne to Cairns, in northern Australia, police said.
According to Brandis, they intended to "leave Australia by sea, transiting to Indonesia and, from Indonesia, seeking to reach Syria to engage in hostile acts in that country."
'Serious attempt' to leave country
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that one of the five men was Melbourne-born Islamic preacher Musa Cerantonio. Cerantonio, who converted from Catholicism at age 17, was deported from the Philippines two years ago for urging people to join jihadi movements.
The police, however, declined to identify all the men in the group, saying only that they were aged between 21 and 33 and known to have "extremist views."
"This is a serious attempt by five men who are of security interest to us who have had their passports canceled in attempting to exit Australia," Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton told reporters. "We're investigating the intention to possibly end up in Syria to fight.
"We can't allow Australians to leave Australia and support terrorism anywhere," he said.
Canberra estimates that some 110 of its citizens are already fighting in the Middle East. Between 50 and 59 nationals have been killed so far, according to Brandis.
The country has also been targeted by several terrorist attacks, including a 2014 café siege in Sydney that left two hostages dead and an attack on a police employee last year.