SYDNEY – Australian police have charged a 16-year-old boy with planning a terrorism act allegedly linked to today’s Anzac Day commemorations which honour soldiers who fought and died for the country.
As dawn services around the nation prepared to remember fallen soldiers, New South Wales counter-terror police said they had arrested the teen near his home in Auburn in Sydney’s west on Sunday.
"Clearly we have taken swift action to ensure community safety on the eve of a sacred day on the Australian calendar," New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said in a statement.
"I want to assure the New South Wales community that our counter terrorism capability is such that we were able to move quickly to prevent harm." The youth has been charged with one count of acts in preparation for, or planning, a terrorist act, but there were no further details on the alleged plans.
The offence carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Scipione said the boy’s young age was "obviously a concern for us, and it remains a measure of the ongoing task facing law enforcement and the community." "Anzac Day should be observed by all in our community free from fear and I would encourage everyone to enjoy this special day," he added.
The 16-year-old was denied bail and was due to appear in a children’s court later today, police said.
New South Wales Premier Mike Baird said Australians should not be deterred from attending events today to remember those who served as Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) soldiers.
"This is a day where we should be out, commemorating such a proud day of our history," he said.
"Where we come and commemorate those many lives that have been lost defending this nation, defending our freedoms, and that is exactly what we should be doing today."
But he admitted that "clearly the events are disturbing. The actions proposed are disturbing". Australian Federal Police Sydney state manager Commander Chris Sheehan said social inclusion was critical to providing a counter-narrative to extremist ideology.
"In Australia and around the world, the age of people radicalised is getting younger, with online grooming tactics similar to those used by sexual predators," he said.
Canberra has been increasingly concerned about home-grown extremism and raised the terror threat alert level to high in September 2014.
Authorities have since conducted a series of counter-terrorism raids in various cities, while the government has passed new national security laws. — AFP