Teenage ‘extremist’ group nabbed in anti-terror raids

Counter-terrorism arrests

Source: NSW Police

Five teenagers have been charged after being arrested during anti-terrorism raids in Sydney on Wednesday.

They were among seven juveniles, aged 15-17, who police allege are members of a religiously motivated violent extremist group who may have been planning an attack.

All were “associates” of the 16-year-old suspect who has been charged with an alleged terror-inspired stabbing of an Orthodox Christian bishop.

NSW Police said on Thursday that five of those arrested had been charged:

  • Two boys, aged 17 and 14, with possessing or controlling violent extremist material obtained or accessed using a carriage service;
  • Two 16-year-old boys with conspiring to engage in any act in preparation for, or planning, a terrorist act;
  • A 17-year-old boy with conspiring to engage in an act in preparation for, or planning, a terrorist act and custody of a knife in a public place.

All will appear in a children’s court on Thursday.

Further arrests are expected.

“Operational activity remains ongoing, with the other juveniles and men are assisting police with inquiries,” a NSW Police statement said.

Another three teenagers and two men are said to be assisting police with their inquiries.

The loosely defined group of teenagers had been closely monitored by counter-terrorism police since the April 15 stabbing in Wakeley, in south-western Sydney.

Police became concerned this week by escalating behaviour within the group, sparking fears of an attack before officers could intervene.

“We believed, through the investigation, that it was likely that an attack might ensue,” NSW Police Deputy Commissioner David Hudson said.

That sparked more than a dozen raids across south-western Sydney – including Bankstown, Prestons, Casula, Lurnea, Rydalmere, Greenacre, Strathfield, Chester Hill, and Punchbowl – and in Goulburn on Wednesday involving more than 400 state and federal police.

Among the items seized was a significant amount of electronic material.

Hudson said police hoped the raids would reveal enough evidence to lay charges against the teens in custody.

Police arrest a teen suspect and hope to lay charges. Photo: NSW Police

The group, while loosely connected, adhered to “a religiously motivated violent extremist ideology”, Hudson said.

Hudson said the counter-terrorism unit launched its operation because of the “enduring risk that this group presented to the community of NSW”.

“It was considered that the group, subject of their attention, posed an unacceptable risk to the people of NSW, and our current purely investigative strategies could not adequately ensure public safety,” he said.

“As a result, we determined that we needed to escalate our activities and that overt action was required.

“Their behaviour, whilst under that surveillance, led us to believe that, if they were to commit any act, we would not be able to prevent that.”

Hundreds of officers were involved in the raids.. Photo: NSW Police

The raids came a little over a week after the attack on Assyrian bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel and priest Isaac Royel during a live-streamed service at the Christ the Good Shepherd Church.

The accused teenager had received intermittent treatment for mental health issues for some years, his lawyer said during an initial court appearance on Friday.

His charge of committing a terrorist act carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

No specific targets had been nominated but the ongoing threat and loose nature of the group including some splinter sections, alarmed authorities, Hudson said.

Investigations were ongoing into the involvement of any adult or if anyone acted as a ringleader or figurehead of the group.

A teen suspect is brought into custody on Wednesday. Photo: NSW Police

Federal Police Deputy Commissioner Krissy Barrett stressed there was no link to Anzac Day commemorations or any religious holiday and there was no immediate danger to the community.

She emphasised officers were targeting the youths based on alleged criminality, not their background.

“We target radicalisation, not religion,” she said.

Leaders from Sydney’s Lebanese Muslim community have said the family of the teenager arrested last week did not believe he had been radicalised online before the attack.

The counter-terrorism squad involved in Wednesday’s arrests is made up of state and federal police as well as officials from ASIO and the NSW Crime Commission.

Several people have also been arrested and charged over riots that broke out outside the church following the stabbing.

Court rules on church stabbing video

Separately, graphic content showing the stabbing of a Sydney bishop will remain hidden on social media platform X for at least the next fortnight.

The Federal Court on Wednesday extended an injunction requiring X, formerly known as Twitter, to hide video showing the stabbing of Emmanuel, which had been deemed as a terrorist incident.

The injunction will remain until at least May 10, pending a further court hearing.

In a statement after the extended injunction, the eSafety Commission said while it was broadly satisfied with the compliance of social media companies to the takedown orders, it would take action where required.

As part of the takedown order, clips online showing the April 15 stabbing attack would be hidden behind legal notices for all global users.

Lawyers for X told the Federal Court that Emmanuel had signed an affidavit stating he was “strongly of the view” the graphic content should remain online.

It came as calls grow for online age verification in Australia to try to protect younger users on the internet.

ASIO director-general Mike Burgess told the National Press Club efforts to have age verification would “help with the problem”, as well as law enforcement.

-with AAP

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