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Australia holds four in 'suicide bomb plot'

Australian police said today they had foiled a suicide bomb plot after arresting four men who were allegedly planning commando-style attacks on at least one army base.

Prime minister Kevin Rudd said the plot was a "sober reminder" that terrorists were still a threat to Australia, which earned the hatred of extremist groups for sending troops to join the US-led campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Around 400 officers from state and national security services took part in 19 pre-dawn raids yesterday on properties in Melbourne, Australia's second largest city, and arrested four men believed to be linked to Somali extremists.

The raids followed a seven-month surveillance operation against the group, which said to be linked to al-Shabaab, a Somali Islamic extremist group, Australian Federal Police acting commissioner Tony Negus said.

Members of the cell planned to enter an army base armed with automatic weapons and open fire, Mr Negus said.

"The men's intention was to actually go into the army barracks and to kill as many soldiers as they could before they themselves were killed," he said.

"This operation has disrupted an alleged terrorist attack that could have claimed many lives."

The suspects will appear in court later today.

The suspects are Australian citizens aged from 22 to 26, Victoria state police said. Several others were being questioned today.

The group had been under investigation since January, Mr Negus said.

"This is a sober reminder that the threat of terrorism to Australia continues," Mr Rudd said in the northern city of Cairns.

He said he had been advised that "events today do not at this time warrant any change to our national counter-terrorism level, which remains at medium" - the same security warning rating that has been in place in Australia since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

The US has designated al-Shabaab a foreign terrorist organisation.

The US State Department's annual terrorism report in April said al-Shabaab was providing a safe haven to al Qaida "elements" wanted for the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

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