On 2 October, 2015, a 15-year-old by the name of Farhad Jabar shot and killed a police civilian finance worker outside of the New South Wales Police Force headquarters in the New South Wales suburb of Parramatta. Curtis Cheng was leaving the headquarters and was on his way home when he was shot at point-blank range by Jabar and was killed instantly. Immediately after the shooting, Jabar was seen running up and down the front of the building shouting until confronted by special constables who responded to the gunshot. After a brief exchange of fire, Jabar was eventually shot and killed.
2015 has been a busy time for Australia’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies. It has been just over a year since Australia’s largest counterterrorist raids took place across a number of states in September 2014. During these raids, more than 800 heavily armed officers and police tactical groups (PTGs) were involved, 25 homes were raided, 15 people were detained, and one person was charged with terrorism-related offenses.
These raids were followed by a number of other terrorist related incidences which took place across Australia, including:
- In May 2015, an 18-year-old from Queensland’s Darling Downs region fled his hometown and joined the al-Nusra Front terrorist organisation. Oliver Bridgeman fled Toowoomba this month and news of this latest Islamist recruit was confirmed by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) on the 15 May. The initial reports claimed that the teenager tricked his family into allowing him to leave. Bridgeman told his parents that he was travelling to Indonesia for aid work, where he continued on.
- Just prior to Australia celebrating its most poignant national commemorative holiday on 25 April—Anzac Day—five teenagers were arrested during anti-terrorism raids across Melbourne. The teenage men have been accused of planning a terrorist attack inspired by Islamic State calls for domestic terror attacks in Australia. About 200 police officers raided seven properties in an effort to foil the alleged plot which involved a serious attack at an Anzac Day parade with the aim of killing and/or causing serious injury to people.
- Doctor Tareq Kamleh is one of Australia’s latest Islamic State recruits who is now working for the terrorist organisation in Syria. Doctor Kamleh, a former pediatric registrar, has appeared in an Islamic State propaganda video urging other medical professionals to join him. He discusses how he felt the move was part of his personal jihad to provide medical support to the Muslims who are suffering as part of the conflict.
- Melbourne teenager Jake Bilardi, who left Australia to fight with the Islamic State, allegedly blew himself up as part of a wave of car bombings in Iraq last month. The news was broken on March 12, which claimed that Bilardi was part of a coordinated attack on the government-held area of Ramadi in western Iraq.
- March also saw two brothers, age 16 and 17, detained at Sydney Airport. They were travelling to the Middle East to fight alongside the Islamic State group.
- February saw police curtail an imminent terrorist attack in Australia with the arrest of two men, age 24 and 25, after an anti-terrorism raid in Sydney’s west. Police seized a homemade flag associated with Daesh, a machete, a hunting knife, and a video which showed one of the men kneeling in front of the flag making threats and politically motivated statements consistent with Daesh messaging. Although authorities have not released the exact content of the video, they did state that the man had threatened to commit “violent acts” with those weapons seized.
- The month of January saw two men arrested after separate anti-terror raids also in Sydney’s west. The men, who were not co-accused and have not yet been charged with terrorism offenses, were found to have shotguns, rifles, and ammunition in their possession.
- In December, Man Haron Monis took 18 people hostage inside the Lindt Café in downtown Sydney. The siege lasted for 16 hours and two people would eventually lose their lives in the ordeal. Once the siege had unfolded, one of Monis’s first demands was to be brought an ‘Islamic State’ flag. In fact, the very first images to be streamed live around the world were of hostages holding up a black Shahada flag in the café window which stated: “There is no God but Allah; Muhammed is the Messenger of Allah.” The headband that Monis was photographed wearing through the window translated into the war cry: “We are ready to sacrifice for you, O Muhammad.”
- In September, the government raised the terrorism alert to high, and on the morning of 18 September, police across the states of Queensland and New South Wales carried out the largest counterterrorism operation in Australian history. More than 800 heavily armed officers and police tactical groups (PTGs) were involved, 25 homes were raided, 15 people were detained, and one person was charged with terrorism-related offenses.
- Five days later, on the 23rd September, an 18-year-old Victorian man, Numan Haider, was shot dead by police after he stabbed the two officers he had voluntarily agreed to meet for questioning on separate terrorism-related concerns. Police found a second, larger knife on him as well as a Daesh flag in his pocket.
- The 30th of September then saw additional raids conducted in the state of Victoria after a joint operation involving the FBI and the Australia Federal Police (AFP) uncovered evidence that a 23-year-old Australian man was financing a U.S. citizen fighting in Syria.
When keeping track of these events it is not hard to see that homegrown terrorism is a real problem in Australia. This latest callous attack committed by a 15-year-old boy highlights how organisations such as IS are effectively recruiting vulnerable individuals to carry out terrorist acts in the name of their perverted ideology.
The Australian government already has a number of initiatives which were introduced under our previous government and are focused on countering violent extremism (CVE). But our current prime minister has been left pondering how best to tackle radicalisation in the wake of this latest murder. This act has even seen a number of public servants and Coalition frontbenchers question the effectiveness of the CVE program altogether.
So what do we do, and where do we go from here? Do we try to prevent all future attacks from taking place, or do we tacitly accept that there are always going to be some that slip through the cracks of the intelligence agencies as well as the state and federal police? Do we pursue hard or soft policies as part of our counterterrorism strategies? Do we call a spade a spade and demand more be done from the Islamic communities around Australia in order to help identify and prevent radicalisation from taking place? Do we take the fact that a 15-year-old boy who committed the very adult crime of murder was a “lone wolf,” or do we wake up and realise that individual attacks committed while acting on behalf of a group cannot be considered “lone” by any measure?