Saturday, May 09, 2015

09-May-15: Melbourne, Australia: Bright, ambitious, kind, gentle teen and a Mother's Day terror plot

Heavily-armed state and Federal police swoop onto the suspect's
two-storey home on Clare Boulevard in northern Melbourne's Greenvale
neighbourhood Friday [Image Source]
In Melbourne, Australia, a fresh round of police raids on Friday and a 17 year old is at the heart of the action.

People are asking themselves - yet again - how the suspicion of the security authorities could possibly have fallen on a teenage boy "from a successful migrant family", a "bright teen" with "ambitions to follow his father into medicine and one day work together".

As the news channels are reporting now, it's another instance of a terrorist bombing attack foiled before anyone was hurt. And with live explosives being detonated (by police) in the streets of a leafy Melbourne suburb.

The outline below, and the collection of quoted passages in the opening para, comes from "Mother’s Day bomb plot: Teen allegedly blocked family and friends from Facebook posts",  Herald-Sun (Melbourne), May 10, 2015:
To his family the teenager charged with allegedly plotting to launch a bombing terrorist attack was a quiet and humble boy most comfortable at home. Until recently, it might have been hard to believe the 17-year-old from a successful migrant family — originating from Syria — could be suspected of involvement in such an alleged plot.
“He is kind, gentle and softly spoken. He never raises his voice,” his 21-year-old sister told the Sunday Herald Sun.
Still shocked after dozens of counterterrorism police officers swooped as his mother was reversing out of the driveway on Friday afternoon, his family struggled to understand why officers suspected the teen. But online posts show his persona morphs from the shy and softly spoken boy the family knows to a passionate ideologue who espouses a strict interpretation of Islam. He claims on his Facebook page Muslims should hate the “kafir” (unbelievers) and that those from the Shi’ite sect of the religion “were not human”. The boy had blocked his parents and extended family from viewing the comments. But his sister dismissed the posts as the writing of an emotional teen, troubled by what is happening in his father’s homeland. She said the family had lost relatives in Syria and the three-year civil war was a very emotional topic. She said it was unlikely her brother had come under the influence of others as he had few friends, outside the family... His sister said the bright teen had ambitions to follow his father into medicine and one day work together. The teen’s father is a doctor, who was born in Syria... The boy’s family said the teen did not have an income, a passport or a bank account — and any money he received he borrowed from his father. He is reliant on his mother or sister for lifts — ­either to his mosque or school — and it was when they were on the way to a mosque that the Special Operations Group with weapons raised pounced, the family said. His mother first thought the police were “some type of terrorist group”. The distressed woman, who cannot be named, said she thought police shot at her car as she backed out of the driveway, but police sources said the bangs were flash charges, thrown beneath the car to distract the teen. “I was reversing, they started shooting into the tyres, around the car ... five or six times, it was just shooting then I saw smoke,” she told the Sunday Herald Sun through her daughter interpreting. “I thought I was being shot at, I thought I was going to be killed.”
With automatic weapons drawn, police pulled the 17-year-old from the car and yelled at his mother to get out, the family said. Victoria Police yesterday said no guns were discharged but would not comment further on the tactics employed during the raid.
The boy’s sister, who watched the arrest unfold from the house, rushed outside but she said she was confronted by three police with drawn guns who yelled “do not move”. The sister screamed to her friend to “call the cops” but she said the armed men answered back “we are the cops”.Later a police officer told the family they had been concerned about what the teenager had been posting about “Islam online”.
As the family was evacuated and the bomb squad police began to search the home, they remained confident nothing would be found. Within hours police had found “devices”, which were detonated in a controlled explosion. Yesterday morning, the family was unaware the boy had been charged overnight with planning to commit a terrorist act and possessing things connected with a terrorist act...
From the national radio network ABC ["Teen charged with terrorism offences after Melbourne police raids"] there additional details. It's being called "an imminent threat to the community".  Says Mike Phelan, AFP Deputy Commissioner: "[L]et me tell you, something was going to happen. As a result of Victoria Police and AFP interception yesterday, some Victorians are going to be alive because of it. Had we not intervened, there was a real threat of action being taken."

Comfortable, quiet Melbourne suburbia: The scene
of Friday's police raid [Image Source]
And these words of advice from Victoria Police Acting Deputy Commissioner Robert Hill:
He urged family and friends to be aware of what young people were doing, particularly on social media. “The solution lies with mums and dads, brothers and sisters, making observations of behaviours that are somewhat strange and not normal,” he said. “This is a challenge for law enforcement agencies not only in Victoria, around Australia, but across the western world. “We have a new challenge where we have young people, young people that are being influenced by radical thinking, something that we’re dealing with as a law enforcement body, with government but more importantly with community.”
The explosives, according to one source, were packed into "crude pipe bombs" but that's small comfort:
"They were very rudimentary but that doesn't really matter because at the end of the day an explosion is an explosion," [Deputy head of Australian Federal Police, quoted here]
AFP quotes authorities in Australia describing this as a Mothers Day terror plot though at this stage it's far from clear when an attack was actually going to happen and which targets were intended. (In Australia, Mothers Day is marked tomorrow, Sunday.)

Just four weeks ago, another dramatic police raid involving 200 heavily armed officers stormed properties in Melbourne's southeast over what was said to be an Islamic State-inspired terror plot planned for Anzac Day, Australia's national day - April 25. In that intercept. three males all aged under 20 were arrested and charged with serious criminal offences including the planning of a terror act and possessing prohibited weapons. We provided some background here ["30-Apr-15: Militants, insurgents and activists: a global terror snapshot"].

It must be jarring for Australians to adjust to the emerging reality of actual, physical terrorism, including bombs and high-velocity shooting devices, in the midst of their comfortable, live-and-let-live communities. What did they ever do to deserve this?, many of them seem to be wondering out loud.

Just as we do about our own lives here in Jerusalem.

No comments: