Operation Ironside: How Australian police, FBI pulled off crime ‘sting of the century’

Dramatic footage has shown the arrests of hundreds of Australians in what’s been dubbed the “sting of the century”.

Police have revealed new details of what’s been dubbed the “sting of the century”, including dramatic footage and images of the exact moment they nabbed dozens of suspects as part of a global operation to bring down terrorist groups, mafia organisations and outlaw motorcycle gangs.

Operation Ironside was formed three years ago as a collaboration between the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to bring down underworld figures.

Victoria Police carried out warrants in 52 suburbs. In a statement, officers said the murders of Muhamed Yucel in Keysborough in 2017; Zabi Ezedeyer in Narre Warren in 2017 and Ikenasio Tuivasa in Ravenhall earlier this year had also been potentially linked to persons or information in the operation.

‘Significant quantities’ of drugs found in NSW

In NSW, investigators executed 33 search warrants, arrested 35 people and seized 27 firearms, more than $800,000 in cash, luxury vehicles worth $1.5 million and “significant quantities” of prohibited drugs – including MDMA, cocaine, ice and cannabis – during the state-based arm of Operation Ironside, police said in a statement.

Officers sized 27 firearms – including two Glock pistols and a 50-calibre sniper rifle – as well as luxury vehicles including a Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren and Bentley.

Sting ‘a heavy blow against organised crime’

Earlier today, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Australian Government “has struck a heavy blow against organised crime — not just in this country, but one that will echo around organised crime around the world”.

“This is a watershed moment in Australian law enforcement history … Everything we’ve been doing has been to keep Australians safe,” he told reporters.

Hundreds of alleged offenders were tricked into communicating via AN0M, an encrypted app designed by police.

The app also helped police stop a mass shooting of a family of five, orchestrated by organised crime.

“That particular case will come out later on where they planned on using a machine gun and potentially at a cafe where people would have been no doubt harmed,” AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw said.

“We were able to, with the co-operation of that particular state police force, take out that individual before they were able to do that.”

Mr Kershaw said the person planning the mass shooting had been arrested some time ago, however other people allegedly involved were still being investigated.

More than 220 members of Australia’s underworld were arrested as part of the nation’s largest ever crime sting after they were allegedly caught using the app to plan executions, drug imports and launder money.

Hundreds more were nabbed by police in Europe and the US as authorities conducted sweeping raids across the globe.

The AFP said it had busted 21 murder plots, stopped more than 3000kg of drugs from hitting the streets and seized $35 million in cash.

Mr Kershaw said the organisation had inflicted “maximum damage to serious organised crime”.

“With devastating consequences to those who seek to do harm to Australians and Australia’s interests, and today, Australia is a safer country because of this unprecedented AFP-led operation,” Mr Kershaw added.

More than 4000 law enforcement officers were involved in executing 525 search warrants across Australia.

“Ironside has arrested and charged who we allege are some of the most dangerous criminals to Australia,” Mr Kershaw said.

“We allege they are members of outlaw motorcycle gangs, Australian Mafia, Asian crime syndicates and serious and organised crime groups.

“We allege they’ve been trafficking illicit drugs into Australia at an industrial scale.

“Sadly, criminal gangs are targeting Australia because it is one of the most profitable countries in the world to sell drugs, and for three years, this operation has been covert.

“Australian law enforcement has been arresting and charging alleged offenders and we have prevented tonnes of drugs from coming onshore.”

Mr Kershaw said the sting had resulted in the arrest of dozens of alleged “kingmakers”.

“We have prevented mass shootings in suburbs and frustrated serious and organised crime by seizing their ill-gotten wealth.

“As of today, we have charged 224 alleged offenders, including 525 charges laid.

“Shut down six clandestine laboratories and acted on 21 threats to kill, including saving a family of five … seized 104 firearms and weapons and almost $45 million in cash.

“These figures are likely to increase over the coming days.

“Collectively, these alleged offenders are facing jail terms that could run into hundreds of years and some of the charges they are facing carry life imprisonment.”

Mr Kershaw said while the FBI had the lead on the investigation, the AFP provided the “technical capability to be able to decrypt the messages”.

Despite the investigation running for years, and arrests being made intermittently, Mr Kershaw said the alleged criminals had no idea they were being targeted.

“Let me be clear. When you get access and it will come out in court, you’ll see that all they talk about is drugs, violence, hits on each other, innocent people who are going to be murdered,” he said.

“(The texts) would be like, ‘I need 1000 kilos at this price.’ Very brazen. No attempt to hide behind any kind of codified kind of conversation … including ‘we’ll have a speed boat to meet you at this place …’”

As AFP officers continue its sweeping raids across the nation today, Mr Kershaw said criminals were in a state of panic.

“They all turn on each other,” Mr Kershaw said.

“The other thing that we learnt is that they actually do a lot of business behind each other’s backs, including the presidents of various groups and organisations for personal wealth.

“So there’s going to be a whole lot of disruption there, and our state police colleagues are on alert for that because there’s no doubt going to be some tension within the whole system about who owes what drug debt and so on.

“So that was pretty brazen to see that they were actually disloyal to their own groups.”

Despite the massive sting, the Prime Minister said authorities still had a long way to go.
“This isn’t over. This is a long way from over. Others will seek to rise up where others have fallen,” Mr Morrison said.

“And as they seek to take it out on each other, as criminals inevitably do, there will be others seeking to take advantage.

“And that’s why the resource will continue to flow. The support will continue to be there.

“And the authorities that they need to do what they do every day and to ensure that Australia can keep winning this fight against organised crime — that will be provided by our government.”

Suburbs where warrants were carried out

In Victoria, police carried out warrants in : Keysborough, Aspendale Gardens, Elwood, Port Melbourne, Footscray, Point Cook, Sunshine West, Sydenham, Seabrook, Westmeadows, Keilor East, St Kilda East, Werribee, Taylors Lakes, Dandenong North, Keilor Park, Taylors Hill, Keilor Park, Southbank, Laverton North, Thornhill Park, Cairnlea, Glenroy, Greenvale, Tottenham, Mickleham, Thomastown, Narre Warren, Cranbourne West, Hampton Park, Meadow Heights, Dallas, Niddrie, Sunshine North, Craigieburn, Tarneit, Collingwood, Bulleen, Blackburn, Thornbury, Essendon, Doncaster, Airport West, Coburg North, Williams Landing, Brooklyn, Balwyn North, Gisborne, Buninyong, Templestowe Lower, Moolap and Lalor.

In NSW, warrants were carried out over two days at locations including Alexandria, Barangaroo, Breakfast Point, Brighton Le Sands, Denham Court, Enfield, Erskine Park, Glebe, Kareela, Lidcombe, Lindfield, Macquarie Park, Malabar, Marsden Park, Middleton Grange, Monterey, Mortdale, Mudgee, Randwick, Redfern, Ropes Crossing, Punchbowl, Pyrmont and Vaucluse.

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