SYDNEY: Australian police charged a teenager Monday over a “truly chilling and disturbing” planned attack on an Anzac Day service, as people across the nation and in New Zealand honored their war dead.
Reports said the 16-year-old had tried to get hold of a gun over the weekend, and was believed to be planning to target the solemn ceremonies that mark the anniversary of the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign during World War I in which thousands died.
“This is a truly chilling and disturbing scenario, and is a sad reflection of the current terror threat landscape in Australia,” Justice Minister Michael Keenan said.
The youth, who has not been named, has been charged with one count of doing an act in preparation for, or planning, a terrorist act.
He did not apply for bail and his lawyer told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation he would defend himself against the charge, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Speaking to journalists in Perth, Keenan said the international security situation had deteriorated over the past 18 months because of the rise of the so-called Islamic State group, and Australia was not immune.
He said while there was no indication there would be more arrests in relation to the alleged plot, officials were concerned about the young age of the suspect.
“Unfortunately this is part of a pattern that we have been observing where younger and younger people are targeted and incited to go and commit an act of terror,” he said.
Police said security had been increased for services to mark Anzac Day, which is named for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) and remembers all servicemen and women.
“Our level of security at Anzac Day is always high,” New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione told reporters in Sydney. “We have increased it and at this stage it’s a noticeable increase.”
Thousands attended moving dawn services and parades in Australia on Monday, marking April 25, 1915 when the Anzacs stormed the beaches on the Gallipoli Peninsula in what is now Turkey, in an ill-fated World War I battle.
More than 10,000 died in the campaign, which failed in its military objectives but has become an important part of national identity in both countries.
In New Zealand, tens of thousands turned out for the Anzac Day dawn services, with Governor-General Jerry Mateparae saying it was important to honor those who perished at Gallipoli.
“Anzac Day has become the focal point for New Zealanders and Australians to acknowledge the service and sacrifice of all involved in military conflict,” he said.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of Australia’s WWI involvement on the Western Front, in France and Belgium – where more than 46,000 lost their lives, and where New Zealand soldiers also fought.