Seven juveniles with alleged ‘violent extremist ideology’ arrested in Sydney counter-terror raids

<span>The police scene at the Assyrian Christ the Good Shepherd church in Sydney’s Wakley after the stabbing attack last week.</span><span>Photograph: Jaimi Joy/Reuters</span>
The police scene at the Assyrian Christ the Good Shepherd church in Sydney’s Wakley after the stabbing attack last week.Photograph: Jaimi Joy/Reuters

Seven juveniles have been arrested as part of extensive counter-terrorism raids across south-western Sydney, with police alleging they adhere to a “religiously motivated violent extremist ideology”.

New South Wales police said 13 search warrants were executed on Wednesday, leading to the arrest of seven “juveniles” including 15, 16 and 17-year-olds. Five others are assisting police with their inquiries.

The arrests come amid the ongoing investigation into the alleged stabbing of bishop Mar Mari Emmanual at the Assyrian Christ the Good Shepherd church in Wakeley last week. A 16-year-old has been charged with a terrorist offence over the alleged attack.

Deputy commissioner Krissy Barrett of the Australian federal police, who were aiding investigations and in the execution of the warrants, said that there was “no evidence” of any planned attack.

She said the arrests come as part of the NSW joint counter-terrorism team’s (JCTT) investigation into the alleged offender and his associates.

“We identified links between the alleged offender and a network of associates and peers who would believe shared a similar violent extremist ideology.

“At this time, we have no evidence of specific locations, times, or targets of a violent act,” she said.

The NSW police deputy commissioner, David Hudson, said that the arrests come amid concerns that “it was likely that an attack might ensue”.

“It was considered that the group, subject of our attention, posed an unacceptable risk to the people of New South Wales, and our current purely investigative strategies could not adequately ensure 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.”

Related: Sydney church stabbing: police charge 16-year-old boy with terrorism offence

He repeated that police investigations had failed to identify if the group had any specific target, adding that the group was “loose” in nature.

“No specific targets had been nominated. However, it’s just the ongoing threat and loose nature of the group as well. Whilst coordinated to some degree, there were splinter factions doing their own thing as well.”

Hudson said more than 400 members of the joint counter-terrorism team from the state and federal police forces, as well as the NSW crime commission, were part of the action that began at about 11.15am.

Both Hudson and Barrett said there was no current ongoing threat to community.

Hudson said the group all “come from the same area” when asked if they all attended the same school.

“They’re all obviously from very similar areas in the community. And there’s a crossover on individuals between different groups. But they are all known to each other – some quite closely, some loosely.”

The JCTT that is investigating the alleged attack last week comprises of the NSW police, the Australian federal police, Asio and the NSW Crime Commission.

At a National Press Club address on Wednesday, the Australian federal police commissioner, Reece Kershaw, confirmed the raids were in relation to the alleged attack by a 16-year-old boy at the Assyrian Christ the Good Shepherd church.

The bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel was allegedly stabbed during a livestreamed memorial service at the church, sparking a riot outside the church. The stabbing incident was later designated a terror incident.

Mike Burgess, the director general of Asio, was also at the National Press Club on Wednesday and said his officers were involved in the investigation.

“Asio is a part of the joint counter-terrorism in every state and territory,” he said. “My officers are connected and involved and embedded inside the joint counter-terrorism team.”