SYDNEY (AP) — An Iranian teenager fatally shot a civilian member of Sydney’s police force in a killing that authorities believe is linked to terrorism, officials said Saturday.
The 15-year-old, who is of Iraqi-Kurdish background and was born in Iran, shot a New South Wales police finance worker with a handgun at close range as the man left work in the western Sydney suburb of Parramatta on Friday, police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said. The teen then fired at responding officers, who shot and killed him, Scipione said.
“We are a long way from establishing a full picture of this man. His exact motivation still remains a mystery to us,” Scipione said. “We believe that based on the information that we have that this was politically motivated. If it’s politically motivated violence, then under our definition, it is deemed necessarily an act of terrorism.”
Scipione declined to release details on why police believe the teen’s actions were prompted by politics.
Police think he was acting alone, and do not know whether he’d been influenced or radicalized by someone else, Scipione said. Officials had not received any warnings that a shooting was imminent, he said.
The shooter lived in the Parramatta area, Scipione said. Police did not release his name.
The victim was Curtis Cheng, a 17-year veteran of the police force’s finance department. He was shot from behind, and was likely unaware of the killer’s presence, Scipione said.
“We are not sure whether he was targeted because he came from a police facility,” Scipione said. “But he was certainly targeted in terms of the shooting. It was a direct shooting. Certainly wasn’t a ricochet. It was a targeted shot that took his life.”
Australia has been struggling to cope with a string of homegrown terrorism crimes involving teenagers.
In September 2014, an 18-year-old was shot dead by police after stabbing two counterterrorism police officers in Melbourne. In May, police arrested a 17-year-old in Melbourne and accused him of plotting to detonate three homemade pipe bombs.
And in April, several teens were arrested on suspicion of plotting an Islamic State group-inspired terrorist attack at a Veterans’ Day ceremony that would have targeted police officers. Officials say that plot was organized by a then-14-year-old British boy, who was sentenced Friday to at least five years in custody for planning the attack from his bedroom in northwestern England.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Saturday that the radicalization of young people is a very complex one that authorities in Australia are trying to address.
“It is a shocking crime. It was a cold-blooded murder,” Turnbull told reporters in Melbourne. “It was doubly shocking because it was perpetrated by a 15-year-old boy. And it underlines the importance of families, communities, leaders being very aware of whether young people are becoming radicalized.”