Bankstown terror arrest: Teenager spoke at 2012 Hyde Park riot
With a microphone in his hand and a smile on his face, a young boy is pictured speaking to the crowd at the infamous Hyde Park riot.
Aged just 12 at the time, he stood next to his brother and his stepfather and was cheered on by the crowd, who were violently protesting against an anti-Muslim film in September 2012.
On Wednesday, the now 16-year-old boy became the 16th person present at the riot to, in subsequent years, be imprisoned, killed or allegedly investigated over terror-related activities.
Photos of the boy speaking into a megaphone at the Hyde Park riot give further insight into his path to radicalisation, a path police allege has only hardened in the four years since.
He was also pictured at the riot holding a poster saying: “Behead all those who insult the prophet.”
Fairfax Media is aware of at least 15 other men present on that day who have since been imprisoned on various charges, raided, killed overseas or are central to counter-terrorism investigations.
Another rioter Abdullah Traljesic was convicted last year of brawling with the Australian Defence League outside Lakemba Mosque.
Four rioters have been charged over their involvement in the terror cell behind last year’s shooting of police accountant Curtis Cheng and the most notorious participants, Khaled Sharrouf and Mohamed Elomar, died fighting for Islamic State.
The 16-year-old boy’s stepfather, who brought him and his brother to the riot, was convicted recently of terrorism offences.
Police told Fairfax Media on Friday that the riot was the first time many had been so public with their extremist views. It allowed police to identify and monitor a small group that has persisted with violent ideologies.
“A small group of them were clearly intent on going down that path,” one officer said. “Their involvement in subsequent incidents hasn’t been much of a surprise, unfortunately.”
Fairfax Media has learned the Joint Counter-Terrorism Team has been collating information for two years on the 16-year-old boy arrested on Wednesday.
Surveillance teams observed the boys buy two bayonet hunting knives from the Bankstown Gun Shop on Wednesday and take a bus to the Bankstown Musallah where it’s believed they were about to make their final prayers. They also allegedly had a handwritten note pledging allegiance to IS.
Police would not comment publicly on whether the 16-year-old boy had been subject to any deradicalisation or diversionary programs in the four years since the riot.
Fairfax Media understands he had no interest in abandoning his hardline beliefs and, although he stayed in school, continued to be influenced by his stepfather, who was a charismatic mentor at the Islamic Campbelltown Youth Centre before his imprisonment.
He left East Hills Boys High in 2014 after refusing to stand for the national anthem and has set up an online preaching group, posting videos of him converting teens on the streets of Bankstown.
He and his younger brother unsuccessfully took the police to court for defamation, arguing they were called “terrorists” when the police raided their home in 2014 and therefore were unfairly portrayed as “a danger to the Australian public”.
Counter-terrorism academics say family ties are the key driver in the radicalisation of young Muslim Australians and should be the focus of deradicalisation efforts.
An analysis of 186 Australian jihadists by think tank Info Ops HQ found only 2 per cent were online or self-radicalised compared with about 69 per cent by family or peers.
Previous criminal behaviour was a factor in 21 per cent of cases.
“People make the mistake of thinking that social media is the cause and the solution when it’s just the conduit,” chief executive of Info Ops HQ Nicole Matejic said.
“When you dig into the family clusters [of jihadists] in Australia, you find they’re all interlinked whether by blood … or inter-marriage.”
Andrew Zammit, researcher at Monash University’s Global Terrorism Research Centre, said in an ABC opinion piecethat efforts by imams to discourage extremism could have only a limited impact.
“Australians who join IS and Al Qaeda associated groups are far more influenced by their peers than they will be by the imams, who they regard as sellouts,” he said.
Rachel Olding is a reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based in the United States.