Teens arrested in anti-terror operation sting

Anti-terrorism operation underway after recent terror act. Picture: NCA NewsWire handout via NSW Police
Anti-terrorism operation underway after recent terror act. Picture: NCA NewsWire handout via NSW Police

A counter-terrorism team has arrested several teenagers in Sydney in the wake of a terror act that shocked the city last week.

More than 400 NSW Police and AFP officers carried out 13 search warrants on Wednesday.

Seven male teenagers were arrested, while two men and three juvenile males continue to assist police with their inquiries.

NSW Deputy Commissioner David Hudson said police would allege that those arrested “adhered to a religious extremist ideology”.

It’s understood those arrested are aged between 15 to 17 years.

An anti-terrorism operation is underway in Sydney. Picture: NCA NewsWire handout via NSW Police
An anti-terrorism operation is underway in Sydney. Picture: NCA NewsWire handout via NSW Police

Mr Hudson said police decided to act after the group of teenagers had been under “intense scrutiny and surveillance” during the investigation.

“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.

“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.

“And we believed, through the investigation, that it was likely that an attack might ensue.

“At our meeting yesterday, we considered that the risk was too great, and we needed to interdict today.”

Mr Hudson said the arrests had “diminished” any threat to the community.

“I can assure the community there is no ongoing threat to the community and the action we have taken today has mitigated any risk of future or further harm,” he said.

“We also are in the process of engaging with our local community leaders to ensure calm across those suburbs in southwestern Sydney.”

Deputy commissioner David Hudson says there’s been a lot of ‘scrutiny and surveillance’ of those people arrested. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Damian Shaw

AFP Deputy Commissioner Krissy Barrett said there was no direct threat to the community.

“This activity, which started this morning, is not linked to Anzac Day commemorations or any religious holiday,” she said.

“There is no immediate danger to the community – however, the national terrorism threat level remains at possible.

“I want to be very clear. We target criminality and not countries.

“We target radicalisation, not religion.

“We ask Australians to remain vigilant.

“I urge people who see or hear something that they feel is not right to contact the National Security Hotline immediately.”

Ms Barrett said the investigation had links between the 16-year-old boy who allegedly carried out the Wakeley attack and “a network of associates and peers who would believe shared a similar violent extremist ideology”.

She said police had acted “swiftly” to disrupt that network and investigation remains ongoing.

“At this time, we have no evidence of specific locations, times, or targets of a violent act,” Ms Barrett said.

“I know that some of this will be confusing and confronting for some Australians and parts of our community.

“Senior members of the AFP and our community liaison teams have today held discussions with faith communities who we value and respect.

“Our relationships are very important, and we never take them for granted.”

The raids were carried out across Sydney including Bankstown, Prestons, Casula, Lurnea, Rydalmere, Greenacre, Strathfield, Chester Hill, and Punchbowl, as well as a property in Goulburn.

Mr Hudson confirmed electronic devices were seized as part of the investigation.

“There’ll be many things that will form out of this,” he said.

“We’ll update in due course with outcomes of the search warrants, and obviously any charges ... out of today’s activities and any ongoing investigative strategies.”

Investigations are ongoing after the attack at the Good Shepherd church on box Road in Wakeley, in Sydney's South West. Picture: NCA Newswire / Gaye Gerard

Earlier, it was revealed the NSW Joint Counter Terrorism team was searching properties across the city on Wednesday afternoon as part of an ongoing investigation.

“There is no current threat to public safety and no connection to Anzac Day commemorations,” an AFP spokesman said.

It comes more than one week after a live-streamed church service at the Christ The Good Shepherd Church in Wakeley on April 15.

Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel was allegedly repeatedly stabbed with a knife by a 16-year-old boy.

The 53-year-old religious leader suffered lacerations to his head and was rushed to hospital. Three other people were also injured.

A crowd of about 2000 people swarmed the church after the attack, allegedly causing damage to police and ambulance vehicles.

Police Commissioner Karen Webb declared the stabbing attack a “terrorist act” during a 2am meeting with the NSW Premier and counter-terrorism authorities.

“The things that influenced my decision to declare this a terrorist incident was the actions of the individual who attended, we will allege attended that church … armed with a knife and stabbed the bishop and priest,” she told reporters.

“We believe there are elements that are satisfied in terms of religious-motivated extremism.”

The NSW Joint Counter Terrorism Team took carriage of the investigation led by the NSW Police Force under Operation Kilchurn.

It comprises of members of the NSW Police Force, Australian Federal Police, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and the NSW Crime Commission.

ASIO director general Mike Burgess has confirmed the spy agency is involved in the Sydney operation.

“ASIO is a part of the joint counter-terrorism in every state and territory,” Mr Burgess said.

“Australia’s security services are always doing its thing to provide security intelligence that enables the police to deal with these problems when we have immediate threats to life or anything else that’s evolving.”