Counter-terrorism police probe motive of alleged Sydney University stabber

Remy Varga, Sarah Blake
The Nightly
Police have taken a teenager into custody after he allegedly stabbed a man in his neck and back at the entrance to Sydney University.
Police have taken a teenager into custody after he allegedly stabbed a man in his neck and back at the entrance to Sydney University. Credit: DAN HIMBRECHTS/AAPIMAGE

Counter terror police are investigating whether a 14-year-old was radicalised online after the teenager donned army fatigues and allegedly stabbed a student in the neck with a kitchen knife at the University of Sydney in an apparently random attack.

NSW Police Assistant Commissioner of Counterterrorism Mark Walton said the toxic nature of the internet was increasingly influencing teenagers and said it appeared the teen from Sydney’s inner west had been influenced by a “salad bar of ideologies”.

The warning came amid reports the 14-year-old had previously been charged over alleged plans to execute an attack inspired by the Christchurch massacre in New Zealand that killed 51 Muslim worshippers at a mosque in 2019 but the charges were dropped.

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University of Sydney vice-chancellor Mark Scott attempted to assure students and staff they were safe as the university went into partial lockdown on Tuesday after the alleged attack.

Police believe the 14-year-old, who is known to police and government agencies, dressed in camouflage and attacked the 22-year-old at random at about 8.35am before fleeing the scene and catching a bus from Parramatta Road.

It is then believed the teen, who suffered injuries to his hand during the alleged attack, was helped by a member of the public to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital where he was taken into police custody.

Mr Walton said the 14-year-old was undergoing a mental health assessment and said it was likely the teen had been influenced by a “mixed and unclear ideology” instead of religion.

“It’s also known as a salad bar of ideologies,” he said.

“A lot of these vulnerable people are not linked to one particular ideology, they will move as they’re exposed to different things.

“It might be white supremacist, neo-Nazi .... it can easily flip into religious ideation.”

NSW Police scour the scene.
NSW Police scour the scene. Credit: DAN HIMBRECHTS/AAP

The Daily Telegraph reported the 14-year-old last year was charged over an alleged terror plot but the charges were dropped on mental health grounds in February this year and the teen was put into a Department of Community and Justice deradicalisation program.

The attack at the University of Sydney comes less than a week after 19-year-old Jordan Patten armed himself with knives and tactical equipment before filming himself entering the office of Newcastle MP Tim Crackanthorp.

The counter terror squad arrested Mr Pattern on Wednesday. It is alleged the 19-year-old had circulated a 200-page extremist manifesto to the media and made a number of social media posts detailing plans to behead Labor MPs and threats to the family of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

Mr Walton on Tuesday issued a warning to parents that authorities were increasingly concerned by the number of children being radicalised online.

“They (children) are embracing violent extremist ideologies and moving towards violence,” he said.

“I urge parents they should be aware of this risk to their children. We ask that everyone be concerned about this and reach out to authorities if they are concerned about the current consumption of extremist ideologies.”

Mr Walton said an increasing number of youths aged between 12 and 16 were emerging in counter terror investigations due to the toxic influence of the internet.

“I can absolutely assure you, there is an online risk of radicalisation,” he said.

“The internet is toxic and it’s very easy for young people especially to self radicalise and move towards violence.”

At the University of Sydney, a backpack and a puffer jacket lay discarded on the ground near a sports oval as investigators cordoned off parts of Science Road and Western Avenue near the university entrance on Parramatta Road.

Police believe the 14-year-old allegedly stabbed the stranger before attempting to flee the scene by boarding a bus on Parramatta Road
Police believe the 14-year-old allegedly stabbed the stranger before attempting to flee the scene by boarding a bus on Parramatta Road Credit: DAN HIMBRECHTS

The 22-year-old on Tuesday afternoon was in a serious but stable condition at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital after suffering one stab wound to the neck.

Professor Scott told staff in an email that he was “shocked and saddened” by the attack and said 15 buildings had been placed into “secure mode”, meaning they could only be accessed with a swipe pass.

“I am shocked and saddened to inform you that a student in our community was attacked on our Camperdown Campus this morning in what police believe is an isolated incident,” Mr Scott said.

“The student is in hospital and is in a serious but stable condition.”

The university has a large private security presence on campus and is liaising with police and authorities. Authorities have ruled out any link to student encampments in support of Palestine that lasted for months on university grounds. The alleged victim was not Jewish.

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