Lone wolf? Australian police shoot dead teen ‘terror suspect’
(CNN) — As Australian lawmakers introduced tough new laws on foreign fighters on Wednesday, police were explaining why an officer shot dead an 18-year-old terror suspect outside a police station in Melbourne Tuesday night.
The teenager turned up at a police station in the suburb of Endeavour Hills for a pre-planned meeting around 8 p.m. local time, Victorian Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay told a press conference Wednesday.
“When these two police officers approached him, they were stabbed, one very seriously,” Lay said.
One of the officers, from the Australian Federal Police (AFP), was in a serious but stable condition in hospital with “knife wounds to his neck, stomach and head,” Lay said. The other, a Victorian police officer, suffered a serious slash wound to his arm.
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Acting Prime Minister Warren Truss told parliament the seriously injured AFP officer, a 43-year-old father of two, was a joint counter-terrorism officer who had been with the AFP since June 2012.
The Victorian police officer is a senior constable who was in a stable condition and also undergoing surgery to his wounds, Truss said.
Police have not said which officer shot and killed the youth, though Truss said, “it appears that the officer who fired on the suspect saved his own life and especially also the life of his colleague.”
Police said the man used a “bladed knife” in the attack and they found a second knife on him.
Who was the man killed?
Police have not identified the 18 year old, but Australian politicians named him in parliament as Abdul Numan Haider. Local media published images of a masked man with an Islamic flag purportedly taken from Haider’s Facebook page.
Police said the man killed was a “person of interest” whose passport was suspended on security grounds last week.
The teenager had raised concerns after being seen at a shopping center in recent days “with a flag that appeared to be an ISIS flag,” Lay said.
“It’s not an offense but clearly it drew our attention to this person and we had a conversation with this person,” he said.
After receiving the report, police asked him to “come and have a chat,” which is why he turned up at the police station.
While expressing “deep sorrow,” the Islamic Council of Victoria said the “tragic event” highlighted the cost of the government’s failure to deal with issues of disaffection.
“(It’s) why we have made numerous calls on the Australian government to deal with the root causes of alienation and disaffection of people such as this,” the statement said.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott released a video statement from Hawaii, where he was en route to the United Nations Security Council meeting in New York.
He said the “nasty incident” indicated that “there are people in our community that are capable of very extreme acts.”
“It also indicates that the police will be constantly vigilant to protect us against people who would do us harm,” he said.
On Wednesday, the government introduced a new bill in parliament to imprison Australians found to be fighting abroad, or supporting terrorist actions.
Formally called the “Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill, the legislation includes new offenses for visiting countries on a no-go list issued by the government, without good reason.
Civil liberty advocates have criticized the speed at which the new legislation has been introduced, calling for the Australian public and members of parliament to be given more time — two months — to have their say on the bill.
“These are very significant pieces of legislation with significant implications for our freedoms and democratic values. It is very important that we consider them carefully and responsibly and that the Australian public fully understands what they mean and if they are necessary,” Liberty Victoria said in a statement.
On September 12, Australia lifted its terror threat level from “medium” to “high,” although at the time Prime Minister Tony Abbott said no specific threats had been made. A reading of “high” means a terrorist attack is considered “likely.”
Days later, more than 800 officers raided 15 homes and businesses across Sydney after investigations suggested suspects were planning “a random attack on individuals,” police said in a statement.
Authorities claimed to have foiled plans to kidnap a member of the public, behead the victim and drape the body in an ISIS flag.
“It is of serious concern that right at the heart of our communities we have people that are planning to conduct random attacks… we have in fact disrupted that particular attack,” New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said at the time.
Fifteen people were arrested in the raids, including Omarjan Azari, who was later formally charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism. Azari was denied bail and is expected to reappear in court on November 13.
Authorities believe around 60 Australians are fighting in the conflict in Syria and Iraq, with around 100 more working in support roles within Australia.
Officials have in the past expressed fears about “home-grown terrorism,” the likelihood that Australians recruited to fight foreign wars could bring their training and philosophies home to carry out local attacks. It’s believed that about 20 fighters have already returned to Australia.
Australia is backing the U.S.-led campaign of airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq, which started on Tuesday.
The Australian Department of Defence confirmed on Wednesday that its Air Task Group (ATG) had arrived in Australia’s main support base in the Middle East.
The group includes 400 Royal Australian Air Force personnel as well as F/A-18F Super Hornets and transport aircraft. The deployment adds to the C-130J Hercules and C-17A Globemaster aircraft already providing humanitarian and logistic support to Iraq, the department said.
National security is also being increased, with an extra $630 million announced in August to strengthen counter terrorism activities and border control.
On Wednesday, police chief Lay said he’d written to all members of the Victorian police force to warn them to exercise “extreme caution.” “We need to be prepared for everything,” he said.
In a warning to people who may be considering taking matters into their own hands, Lay said police would not tolerate any acts of racism or intolerance.
“It is important to remember that extremist behavior has nothing whatsoever to do with faith,” he said.
CNN’s Ivan Watson, Pam Boykoff, Elizabeth Joseph,