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NSW counter terror squad arrests seven teens after Sydney raids connected to Wakeley church stabbing

Remy Varga and Dan Jervis-Bardy
The Nightly
3 Min Read
NSW Police Deputy Commissioner David Hudson.
NSW Police Deputy Commissioner David Hudson. Credit: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts

The NSW counter terror squad has unearthed a potential teen terror cell after 400 police raided 12 Sydney properties off the back of the investigation into the stabbing of Bishop Mar Mari Emmanual last week.

NSW Police Deputy Commissioner David Hudson said 10 teenagers and two men had been under surveillance since the live-streamed attack at the Christ the Good Shepherd Church and authorities had moved quickly after deciding they were an unacceptable risk to public safety.

“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,” he said.

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The properties raided were in suburbs across Sydney’s southwest including Bankstown, Prestons, Casula, Lurnea, Rydalmere, Greenacre, Strathfield, Chester Hill and Punchbowl.

A property in the city of Goulburn, about 190km southwest of Sydney, was also raided. Investigators have seized a large amount of electronic material.

NSW counter terror squad officers arrested seven teenagers and are interviewing another three teens and two men.

Mr Hudson said the two men and 10 teens, some aged between 15 and 17 were associates of the 16-year-old charged over the alleged stabbing of Bishop Emmanuel in Wakeley, which authorities said was a terror attack.

His family has disputed he was radicalised.

About 2000 people descended on Wakeley after the stabbing, with some violently clashing with police for hours as they pelted officers with projectiles including bricks and fence posts.

About 58 officers were injured while 51 police vehicles were damaged.

Australian Federal Police deputy commissioner Krissy Barrett said the investigation was ongoing and authorities had yet to identify evidence of specific times, locations or targets of a potential terror attack.

Ms Barrett said the raids would be “confusing and confronting” for some people and communities and the AFP was liaising with faith communities.

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

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

“We target radicalization, not religion.

“We ask Australians to remain vigilant and I urge people who see or hear something that they feel is not right to contact the National Security hotline.”

Ms Barrett stressed there was no ongoing threat to public safety and was not connected to Anzac Day celebrations or any religious holidays. She urged the public to read credible news about the alleged stabbing of Bishop Emmanuel and Wakeley riots and ignore misinformation circulating online.

Mr Hudson said no targets of a possible terror attack had been identified as he drew parallels with the murder of police civilian employee Curtis Cheng in 2015.

“The terrorism landscape and the radicalisation of youth online is a continuing problem for us,” he said.

“You think back 10 years ago to the murder of Curtis Cheng killed outside police headquarters by a 15-year-old.

“Nothing’s changed.”

In 2015 then 15-year-old Farhad Mohammad donned traditional Islamic clothing when he shot dead Cheng, an accountant, outside police headquarters in Parramatta in a brazen daylight terror attack.

The headquarters was renamed the Curtis Cheng Centre in 2016 to honour the slain father-of-two.

Earlier on Wednesday NSW Premier Chris Minns said he had been briefed on the counter-terrorism operation by NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb.

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw — who was appearing at the National Press Club just as news of the operation broke — confirmed the raids were in relation to the alleged stabbing inside the Wakeley church.

Asked if he could provide further information, Commissioner Kershaw said: “No”.

Speaking generally about combating terrorism, Commissioner Kershaw referenced Wednesday’s operation as an example of how authorities were able to “get across these matters pretty quickly”.

“We do have to make, unfortunately, lawful interventions to prevent any further planning or attack on our communities,” he said.

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