Sydney teen was planning terror attack: Police

Tamim Khaja being arrested in Sydney yesterday. Australian police say he was trying to acquire a firearm and was also planning to leave the country to join the ISIS militant group.
Tamim Khaja being arrested in Sydney yesterday. Australian police say he was trying to acquire a firearm and was also planning to leave the country to join the ISIS militant group.PHOTO: NSW POLICE

SYDNEY • A teenager was arrested in Sydney yesterday over an alleged "imminent" terror plot, with reports saying he was scouting possible sites in Sydney, including police stations, to attack while at the same time trying to acquire a firearm.

The teenager was identified as 18-year-old Tamim Khaja, said to have been kicked out of high school last year after preaching extremism in an official school prayer group.

"We will allege that this individual was looking at possible sites in Sydney to undertake a terrorist attack and was making arrangements to acquire a firearm," Australian Federal Police deputy commissioner Neil Gaughan was quoted as saying.

New South Wales Police deputy commissioner Catherine Burn said the police would also allege that the teenager was planning to leave the country to go to Syria to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group.

"He does have associations with some of the people that have already been put before the courts," she said. She would not identify the others and how they were linked, but said the teenager was acting alone in this alleged plot.

Attorney-General George Brandis, without giving precise details of potential targets, told reporters that the teenager had been under surveillance since February and police decided to act yesterday "to prevent an imminent terrorist event".

"This is the ninth occasion since the national terrorism alert level was raised (to high) in September 2014 that police have successfully intervened to prevent an imminent terrorism event on Australian soil," Mr Brandis was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse.

The 18-year-old is expected to be charged with acting in preparation for, or planning, a terrorist act, which has a maximum penalty of life in prison, said Mr Gaughan.

The teenager would also likely be charged with "preparing for an act of foreign incursion".

Australian counter-terror police have made a string of arrests since late 2014, including of a 16-year-old boy charged with preparing an attack linked to Anzac Day services honouring Australian soldiers in Sydney last month.

Other arrests saw a 17-year-old boy picked up in a raid in Melbourne a year ago, allegedly with "improvised explosive devices" in his family home.

Officials said yesterday's arrest had no connection to police raids carried out in the southern city of Melbourne, part of an operation connected to five men detained last week over an apparent plan to leave the country by boat.

Police have alleged that the five - all in their 20s or 30s - wanted to travel by boat to Indonesia and to make their way from there to Syria to join militant groups.

The government has passed numerous national security laws including legislation allowing passports to be cancelled to prevent Australians from leaving the country.

But the police have been unable to prevent all attacks, including the terror-linked murder of police employee Curtis Cheng by a teenager last October.

Deputy commissioner Burn yesterday sounded the alarm about youth radicalisation in the country.

"We are still seeing people planning and preparing for such attacks and, unfortunately, that group of people are getting younger and younger.

"As we all know, youth are vulnerable, particularly around the radicalisation, and we have a lot of things in place to try to deal with it but it is still of absolute concern that we are still continuing to see it happen," she said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2016, with the headline 'Sydney teen was planning terror attack: Police'. Print Edition | Subscribe