A photo posted by Sevdet Besim on photo-sharing application Instagram. Photo: Supplied
Neighbours woke to screams as Melbourne terror raids started
Five arrested in counter-terrorism raids
Two days after police shot dead 18-year-old terror suspect Numan Haider last September, another Islamic teen firebrand, Sevdet Besim, responded on Twitter, demanding CCTV footage of the event.
Early on Saturday morning, Besim was arrested. The 18-year-old was pulled from the bedroom in his parents’ home in suburban Hallam at 4am – one of five 18 and 19-year-olds taken into custody in coordinated raids across four suburbs in Melbourne’s far south-east.
By the end of the day, Besim had been charged with conspiring to commit an act of terror specifically targeting the police. An 18-year-old Narre Warren man has been released and is expected to be charged on summons with prohibited weapons offences. Two other Narre Warren men, aged 18 and 19, have been released pending further inquiries. An 18-year-old Hampton Park man remained in custody.
According to the Australian Federal Police and Victoria Police, the group was planning an “ISIS inspired” attack using “edged weapons” on the day that lies at the heart of Australian nationalistic sentiment, Anzac Day.
The suburbs the subject of Saturday’s raid all border Endeavour Hills, where Haider lived and, ultimately, died. He was shot in the head last September 23 by police after he began stabbing two officers outside the police station.
But geographical proximity was not the only factor relating the two events. The five arrested on Saturday were Haider’s “associates” but not his relatives, said Acting Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton.
Another common element, police say, was the Al-Furqan prayer room in nearby Springvale South – a place that is presided over by firebrand cleric Harun Mehicevic and which has regularly come to the attention of security forces since it was first raided in 2012.
They were linked by a virulent form of Islam and equally virulent feelings of victimisation. Among those toying with radical ideas, the manner of Haider’s death, and the failure until now of authorities to hold an inquest to air all the facts, has only strengthened the feelings of alienation and suspicion that appears to be driving the hyper-radicalism of a few young men in Melbourne’s south-east.
Besim was certainly concerned by Haider’s death. Victoria Police tweeted of a “Police shooting in Endeavour Hills” on the day Haider was shot. Two days later, Besim replied: “lets see the CCTV footage of what happened”.
The lack of published video has turned into a meme, prompting a Change.org petition calling for its release. The long wait for a coronial inquest into Haider’s death has created space for the idea among those prone to conspiracy theories that it was unnecessary, an over-reaction by police, designed to hide something.
A senior member of Al-Furqan, who declined to be named, expressed those concerns to Fairfax Media on Saturday.
“Even with Numan Haider … I don’t understand why would the police actually shoot him in the head, why not shoot him somewhere else? It sounds a bit suspicious,” the man said.
“They haven’t even released the videos and stuff like that … if it was something that was done to an Aboriginal person, people would go [into] uproar. But it’s something that’s done to a Muslim …”
Saturday’s raids, the man speculated, may have been a plot by the Australian authorities to create fear among ordinary people, and to justify harsher anti-terror laws.
“I don’t see any other rationality behind this,” the senior Al Furqan member said.
The man denied specific knowledge of Sevdet Besim or his friends, but said, “probably I must have seen him or something, but there are many people who come once in a while”.
However, any “stupid” idea like an attack on police or Anzac day was not the idea of Al Furqan or its leader.
“I don’t condone this sort of stupid act if it’s going to be happening in Australia.”
On social media, Besim goes by the names “Sevislam,” and @AbuBakr, and his avatar is a fearsome lion. Much of his Instagram account is taken up by fire-breathing quotes from the Koran and Islamic leaders: “A real lion of Allah will never bow down their heads to their enemies”, one says.
He followed controversial figure Mohammed Junaid Thorne, whose Facebook feed on Saturday included the line: “Again we wake up to the news of the same bunch of terrorists (AFP) doing the usual: acting tough on young children”.
Photographs on Instagram of Besim show him in army fatigues traipsing through the bush with at least two other “brothers” whose faces have been blocked out because, he says, they do not want to be identified.
But there are other posts talking about Samsung phones, or with his new, silver BMW. There are pictures of him on his mother’s account from an earlier time – before he started growing his beard – pictured with family and friends on a night out in the city.
It reminds you how young all these men are.
“I think the entire Australian community should be concerned about the young age of these particular men,” AFP acting deputy commissioner Neil Gaughan.
“This is an issue not just for law enforcement but the broader community. We need to get better in relation to identifying [these] young men and women … and we need intervention strategies to ensure that they don’t go down this path.”
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