An 18-year old man has been shot dead and two counter-terrorism police officers hospitalised with stab wounds after an incident last night in Melbourne’s south east.
The dead man, from Narre Warren, was described in media reports as a “person of interest” in a counter-terrorism operation, who had made threats against the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, and recently had his passport cancelled.
It was also reported that at some stage he had been carrying an Islamic State flag.
A police statement said a member of Victoria Police and an AFP officer, both from the Joint Counter Terrorism Taskforce, met the man at Endeavour Hills police station on Heatherton Road “in relation to an ongoing investigation”.
An altercation occurred about 7.45pm outside the police station, in which the police officers were stabbed.
The Victoria Police officer fired the shot that killed the man.
Both police officers were taken to hospital, in a stable condition.
The bomb squad was sent to the scene as a precaution. There was no indication of a bomb threat.
Police said at a midnight news conference that the man had been invited to the Endeavour Hills police station “for discussion about his behaviour” that had been causing concern.
The man attended voluntarily and the two officers were taken by complete surprise when he produced a knife after the introductions. They had no inkling that he posed a threat to them.
The AFP officer was stabbed multiple times, and the Victorian officer in two places in his forearm.
“Our members had no choice other than to act in the way in which they did,” Assistant Commissioner of Victoria Police, Luke Cornelius told the news conference.
He said the man was acting alone and this was an isolated incident. The police had taken the opportunity to reach out and have a discussion with the man, and the situation had ended in tragedy.
AFP Commander Bruce Giles said there was intelligence that the man may have been seen with an ISIL flag but details were still being confirmed.
The incident follows the recent raising of Australia’s official terror alert from medium to high, sweeping raids in Sydney and Brisbane, the charging of a man with conspiring to plan or prepare a terrorist attack and a massive boost in security at Parliament House in Canberra, with armed police in the corridors.
It comes as a poll has found that one in two Australians believe sending military forces to Iraq will make Australia less safe from the threat of terrorism.
But despite this, the government’s commitment has majority support.
In the Essential poll only 15% thought sending forces would make Australia more safe; 51% believed it would be less safe. One third (34%) disapproved of the commitment to send aircraft and military personnel totalling 600; 52% approved.
The Islamic State in a statement issued this week urged supporters to murder people from countries in the coalition against it, naming Australia among other particpants.
The United States has begun air strikes against Syria, as the conflict steps up.
The US Defence Department said in a statement that U.S. forces and partner nations, including Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates had undertaken action against ISIL in Syria. The partner nations had “participated in or supported” the strikes.
It said a “mix of fighter, bomber, remotely piloted aircraft and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles was used to conduct 14 strikes”.
The strikes had destroyed or damaged multiple ISIL targets in the vicinity of Ar Raqqah, Dayr az Zawr, Al Hasakah, and Abu Kamal and included ISIL fighters, training compounds, headquarters and command and control facilities, storage facilities, a finance centre, supply trucks and armed vehicles, the statement said. There were also US strikes in Iraq.
The Australian forces that have been pre-deployed are not yet engaged in combat – and will not be involved in activities against Syria.
Abbott has left for the United Nations Security Council session in New York which will discuss in particular how to stop foreign fighters joining the Islamic State. The special meeting will be chaired by President Barack Obama.
Before leaving, Abbott reassured his MPs about the limited nature of Australia’s role and invited backbenchers to raise any worries about it.
He told the Coalition parties meeting that while the decision had not yet been made to commit the Australian forces to military action, events were hastening and the forces were ready to be used in offensive operations. Anybody with concerns about that should take the opportunity to raise them, he said.
Conservative Liberal senator Cory Bernardi said he supported the decision but sounded a caution about the public’s willingness to accept a long term commitment.
Abbott said there was no easy way forward – whatever we did, there were risks and dangers and no perfect outcome.
He laid down two goals: to ensure these places were not bases from which terrorist attacks could come and to avoid genocide.
Australia had modest ambition and minimal involvement, and was committed to work only in a coalition. “This is an illusion free commitment,” he said. Australia would not be doing the heavy lifting on the ground.
“We’re not there to build a liberal democracy or a shining city on a hill.”
For those who were cautious he pointed to the fact US President Barack Obama had been “slow to reach for the gun”.
By Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra
Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.