SYDNEY (AFP) – Police in Melbourne have shot dead a “known terror suspect” who stabbed two officers, a day after the Islamic State group called for Muslims to indiscriminately kill Australians, officials said Wednesday.
The 18-year-old, whose passport was cancelled a week ago on security grounds, was killed on Tuesday evening, having arrived at a police station on the outskirts of the city to attend a “routine” interview.
It came as tougher counter-terrorism laws were introduced to Australia’s parliament on Wednesday to combat the threat of foreign fighters, with a proposal to criminalise travel to known terror hotspots without a legitimate reason.
Terror suspect Abdul Numan Haider was met by two members of the Joint Counter Terrorism Team and greeted them with a handshake before pulling out a knife and attacking both men, with one stabbed in the head, neck and stomach.
One officer fired a single shot that killed him, police said, adding that the teenager was carrying two knives.
The Sydney Morning Herald said he had an IS flag with him and planned to behead officers and post the images online, although police would not confirm this.
“I can advise that the person in question was a known terror suspect who was a person of interest to law enforcement and intelligence agencies,” Justice Minister Michael Keenan said, adding that the attack was unprovoked.
Both police officers were in a stable condition after undergoing surgery.
The attack came after IS militants released a statement Monday urging the indiscriminate killing of citizens of countries taking part in the US-led coalition against the group, which has seized swathes of Iraq and Syria and declared an Islamic “caliphate”.
Australia was singled out, along with the United States, Canada and France.
“Obviously, this indicates that there are people in our community who are capable of very extreme acts,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in a statement.
Canberra this month raised its terror threat level and last week carried out large-scale raids in Sydney and Brisbane to disrupt an alleged plot by IS supporters to abduct and behead a member of the public.
The government believes up to 60 Australians are fighting alongside IS extremists, while 20 have returned and at least another 100 are actively working to support the movement at home.
Underlying Western jitters about the threat they could pose, the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill introduced to Australia’s parliament would make it a crime to travel to places considered terror hotspots without a valid reason, such as aid work or journalism.
The offence would be punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment.
The proposed changes also create a new offence of ‘advocating terrorism’ which would carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Victoria state police chief Ken Lay said the teenager “had one thing on his mind, and that was to do the most amount of harm to these two people as he could”.
“We were aware of this young man and had been for number of months. The fact that the joint counter-terrorism task force was doing work around him indicates our level of concern,” he added.
Haider was reportedly being investigated after unfurling an IS flag in a local shopping centre recently and posting inflammatory remarks on social media.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation said Haider’s family was from Afghanistan and he had links with Islamic group al-Furqan in southeast Melbourne, which was targeted in terrorism raids by police in 2012.
The rise of IS and moves to tighten counter-terrorism laws have raised tensions in the Muslim community, with leaders on Wednesday detailing a backlash that has included several mosques being vandalised, while calling for restraint.
“We call on everyone to exercise restraint and civility. We must not let emotion take over common sense,” said the grand mufti of Australia, Ibrahim Abu Mohammed.
Australia has deployed 600 troops to the United Arab Emirates to join the international coalition gearing up for a campaign to eradicate the extemist. It has also sent eight RAAF F/A18 combat aircraft.
So far Australia has only been involved in dropping humanitarian and military aid to Iraqis under siege and has repeatedly ruled out intervention on the ground.