Extremist ethics questioned
Disturbing reports claim Australian counter-terrorism police “fed” a 13-year-old’s fixation with Islamic State, and waited to charge him.
A Victorian children’s court magistrate has found that police conduct in handling the boy's case fell “profoundly short” of the expected standards of law enforcement.
The boy, referred to by the pseudonym ‘Thomas Carrick’, became entangled in counter-terrorism investigations after his fixation with Islamic State was allegedly encouraged by an undercover operation, leading to his being charged with terrorism offences.
Thomas, who has an IQ of 71, autism spectrum disorder, and is an NDIS recipient, was first flagged to authorities by his parents and Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services due to his interest in extremist material.
This led to a police operation in which an undercover officer engaged Thomas online, potentially exacerbating his fixation and undermining the rehabilitation efforts undertaken by his family.
Magistrate Lesley Fleming criticised the Joint Counter Terrorism Team (JCTT) - comprising Australian federal police, Victoria police, and ASIO members - for their handling of the case.
Fleming said the community would not expect law enforcement to encourage a young child towards violent extremism, or to use the guise of rehabilitation to potentially harm a child.
The magistrate found the conduct of the JCTT and the AFP to be a significant deviation from acceptable standards, leading to a permanent stay on the charges against Thomas.
After Thomas's parents sought police assistance for his interest in Islamic State-related content, police began a therapeutic engagement with Thomas in response, but this was later overshadowed by the JCTT's covert operation.
Despite early signs that Thomas's fixation could be attributed to his autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and cognitive impairment, the operation proceeded, with an undercover operative befriending him online and encouraging discussions about extremist activities.
The court found that the operation, known as Bourglinster, not only failed to consider Thomas's limited capacity to enact any extremist behaviour but also delayed charging him with offences to circumvent the doli incapax defence, in which children under a certain age cannot be held criminally responsible for their actions.
The magistrate has granted a permanent stay on Thomas's charges. Advocates hope the finding will be the start of a critical examination of law enforcement tactics, and the ethical boundaries of counter-terrorism operations, especially involving vulnerable youth.