Thought Crime Becomes a Reality in Latest NSW Police ‘Terrorism’ Operation

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Teenage Terrorism

Sydney breathed a sigh of relief on Wednesday afternoon, as New South Wales police announced announced that Operation Mingary, which comprised 400 officers deployed to thirteen locations across the city’s west, had resulted in seven “juveniles” being arrested, so we’re no longer living under the threat of terrorism offences.

NSW police commissioner Karen Webb confirmed that she considered that there was likely at least one terrorist in our midst, when she announced at 1.35 am on 16 April that a 16-year-old Muslim boy, who stabbed a priest, was a terrorist because he travelled 90 minutes to get to the crime scene.

On 24 April, NSW police deputy commissioner David Hudson told the press that the terror unit had raided the alleged stabber’s mates’ parents’ homes at around 11 am, they’d spoken to a dozen people and arrested seven kids, which meant the terror threat was over.

And AFP deputy commissioner Krissy Barrett added that the city could now sleep soundly as the seven “juveniles”, aged 14 to 17, were in police custody.

The 24 April raids were carried out by the Joint Counter Terrorism Team, which is comprised of members from NSW police, the AFP, ASIO and the NSW Crime Commission. And news footage showed teenagers being lead away from houses in suburban streets by officers.

Barrett added that the “juveniles” do share the same “violent extremist ideology”, although there was “no evidence of specific locations, times or targets of a violent act”.

The deputy added that she knew the information would be “confusing and confronting to some”, but, indeed, most may find it somewhat hard to believe that a group of “juveniles” with some nasty ideas and no real plans had posed such a threat that 400 officers were required to capture them.

But then again, these were Muslim teens thinking bad thoughts and that equates to terrorists, according to some tired old trope law enforcement and pollies are now giving a good whipping.

The teen terror threat within

Following the 15 April stabbing of a priest in Wakeley, Hudson told the press, “One young person has been charged with a terrorism-related offence in relation to that incident”. And he added that from there, a number of the kid’s associates had been identified as warranting police scrutiny.

“We will allege that these individuals adhere to a religiously-motivated violent extremist ideology,” the deputy said of the kids. And he added that inquires had included “comprehensive surveillance activities and extensive scrutiny” of the dozen or so teens before sending in four hundred officers.

By Thursday morning, the AFP outlined, five juveniles had been charged. Two 16-year-olds and one 17 received a charge of conspiring to plan or prepare a terrorist act, while a 14-year-old and another of 17 have been charged with possessing violent extremist material sourced via a carriage service.

The five charged teens have been refused bail, while of the two other juveniles who were taken into custody on Wednesday, nothing was said. But the federal police did outline that five other males were assisting them with their investigations, which included three juveniles and even two adults.

The AFP further noted that the teenager who ended up stabbing two priests nonfatally during a livestreamed mass has been charged with committing a terrorist act under section 101.1 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), which is an offence that carries life imprisonment.

“There is no specific threat to public safety and no threat to Anzac Day commemorations,” the AFP statement continued, which would imply that prior to hundreds of officers having swept up the teen terrorists, who were talking about planning something, we’d all been under imminent threat.

A tale of two terrors

The AFP deputy made clear that “we target criminality and not countries” and “we target radicalisation not religion”. And in unpacking that, it would suggest that we don’t call people terrorists just because they hail from the Middle East and nor do we do the same to Muslims.

Barrett made those comments likely to assuage criticism of the fact that a 16-year-old Muslim boy stabbed a priest and he’s been deemed a terrorist, as have all his mates without having committed any violent crime. Yet, when a white guy stabbed six people just prior, he was deemed mentally ill.

A 40-year-old white Australian man of European descent stabbed six people in a Bondi Junction shopping mall on 13 April, just days before the church knife attack, and of those he killed, five of the victims were women, and from what is known of events, police considered he was targeting women.

And while it’s not known whether commissioner Webb is aware of it, at least some members of NSW police management must be privy to the Incel movement of recent decades that has seen men mass murder women due to a misogynistic ideology, which in Canada has been prosecuted as terrorism.

But many do consider these two designations – one a targeted mass killing a crime, and another, a targeted nonfatal stabbing as terrorism – to be the product of biased attitudes or a politically advantageous response to events that trigger fresh and unfounded prejudices in the community.

Then shadow immigration minister and later Australian prime minister Scott Morrison was reported to have suggested, during a 2011 Liberal meeting, that the party take advantage of prejudices about Muslims to gain political advantage. So, these sorts of discussions do take place.

And as for ideas pervading the public mind, Channel 7 reported that the Bondi stabbing had triggered terror concerns due it having taken place in a “Jewish enclave” in light of the geopolitical climate at present.

However, that didn’t turn out to be the case, and besides, one of the victims was Muslim, anyway.

Woops… I made a terror call

“The use today of ‘religiously motivated violent extremism’ in relation to counterterrorism raids in Sydney again has unleashed online hatred and, based on past experience, will result in increased hate incidents against the Muslim community,” said the Australian Muslim Advocacy Network.

The 24 April AMAN statement outlined that terrorism has a political motivation and to label the Wakeley stabbing as a religiously motivated crime is to then generate fear in the community about a religion, Islam, and Muslims in general.

And this has before played out in NSW and nationwide.

“The past week has put the double standards of terrorism designation processes on full display,” AMAN continued. “The Bondi attacker was ruled out of being a terrorist within a few hours because he was known to police as having mental health concerns.”

Yet, despite mental health concerns playing a factor in the 16-year-old boy travelling across town and stabbing someone, police then took a few hours to deem this terror. And one can imagine how those niggling systemic racisms might play out in such moments of heightened criminal inquiry.

“The NSW police commissioner’s rushed designations lead to irreparable prejudice against young people who will be tried before the courts,” the Muslim advocacy group made crystal clear.

“All Commonwealth offences must be tried before a jury.”

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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