The end of lockdowns across Australia means that individuals and groups, including teenagers, who have been ‘preloaded’ with pernicious ideologies, pose a greater threat to public safety, the Australian Federal Police has told a senate estimates committee hearing.
The warning from the AFP about the potential for a spike in activity among cohorts of extremists when restrictions on movement are lifted comes after recent terrorist incidents in Norway, the UK, and New Zealand have been regarded by law enforcement in those respective countries as having been radicalised.
Potential perpetrators of terrorist acts are getting younger with AFP commissioner Reece Kershaw telling senators that teenagers as young as 13 years of age are among the cohort causing great concern because they are “negotiating with others online to carry out catastrophic terror attacks”.
Kershaw said that this phenomenon of disaffected or alienated young people is a part of a greater trend that has emerged as people have spent more time locked in at home
“The threat of terrorism remains at probable but there have been some significant shifts in the diversity and complexity of the environment and since the pandemic started almost a year and a half ago,” Kershaw said.
“The threat of terrorism has not dissipated. In fact, the pandemic, extended lockdowns and more time spent online has in some cases made it easier for extremists to recruit.”
Kershaw said that an increase in anti-government sentiment, a rise in the proliferation of conspiracy theories and physical isolation and more time spent online have increased the threat.
He said that the online environment has meant that people have been able to link up with like-minded individuals and groups to share extremist ideologies.
“Across the world – including in Australia – we have individuals who are now preloaded with extremist ideology and the end of restrictions on movement will make it harder for law enforcement.”
Research into how children and individuals with learning or developmental difficulties are being recruited by extremists is being done, Kershaw said, and the AFP is working with stakeholders to help deal with the problem of young people being radicalised.
“We need parents and carers to understand who their children are communicating with online, and I implore parents to call the AFP if they are worried their child is being targeted by individuals with extremist views.
“Early intervention can divert children from this path and, where possible, we want to keep youth out of the criminal justice system.”