Australian police arrest 16-year-old in Anzac terror plot

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Story highlights

  • Police announce the arrest of a 16-year-old on terror charges ahead of annual Anzac celebrations
  • Anzac day honors Australian and New Zealand troops who served or died in armed conflict
  • Police urge Australians to enjoy 'special day'

(CNN)New South Wales police have arrested a 16-year-old on suspicion of plotting a terror attack, Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said in an early-morning press conference.

Police believe the teen was planning on disrupting Anzac commemorations in Sydney. The occasion, which is observed annually, honors Australian and New Zealand troops who served or were killed in armed conflict, and falls on the anniversary of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps' landing at Gallipoli, Turkey in 1915.
    The teen, who cannot be named because of his age, is charged with "preparation for, or planning, a terrorist act," an offense that carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. He appeared in children's court Monday.
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    The teen was reportedly arrested after attempting to obtain a firearm in the Sydney suburb of Auburn.
    "The risk from this particular threat has been thwarted," Scipione told journalists just after Sydney's main dawn service at the Cenotaph in the city's Martin Place. He urged Australians to "go out and enjoy this special day."
    A statement from Minister of Justice Michael Keenan said that the development was a "truly chilling and disturbing scenario," and a "sad reflection of the current terror threat landscape in Australia."
    The terror threat remains at "probable," the statement continued.

    'Groomed' for terror

    Police point to the vulnerability of teenagers to become radicalized. Federal police Commander Chris Sheehan said: "In Australia and around the world, the age of people radicalised is getting younger, with online grooming tactics similar to those used by sexual predators."
    Police say they found "extremist propaganda" at the boy's Auburn home, along with evidence to indicate that he was in the advanced stages of planning an attack, CNN affiliate Seven News says.
    Keith Suter, Foreign Editor of Seven's Sunrise program, said: "Clearly this youngster was groomed online, presumably by someone overseas.
    "He's just someone who got seduced by the online communication and as the police commissioner said, parents have to be so careful as to what their kids are doing on their computers."
    The thwarted attack bears similarities to arrests made a year ago, when five young men were arrested in Melbourne ahead of a 2015 Anzac ceremony, in what police called a major counterterrorism operation.
    Other Australian teens have been seduced by the lure of extremism, including Abdullah Elmir, a 17-year-old Australian who allegedly fled to Syria before appearing in an ISIS propaganda video vowing to raise ISIS flag over the White House.