Police told reporters this morning there was no imminent or direct threat to the public but that the ideology of the Christchurch attack had to do with the timing of police moving in.
The deadly mosque shootings in New Zealand that killed 51 people took place one year ago yesterday.
After a Joint Counter Terrorism Team (JCTT) investigation, police took out search warrants in Sanctuary Point and the rural locality of Parma – both near the NSW south coast town of Nowra – this weekend, just hours before the anniversary.
A 21-year-old man was arrested on Saturday and charged with one count of acts done in preparation for, or planning, terrorist acts. This offence carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
It will be alleged in court that the man was attempting and planning to purchase or acquire military equipment, including firearms, and items capable of making improvised explosive devices.
A number of electronic devices, tactical equipment and three paintball firearms were seized at Sanctuary Point.
Four registered firearms were seized at the Parma residence, which is the home of an associate of the 21-year-old man.
Police are looking into the links between the man facing court today and his online and real-world associates.
Police said a possible incident could have involved disruption of an electrical substation.
Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Scott Lee told reporters that up until the arrest and charging of the man, there had not been a move to finalise any attack plans. “However, we had sufficient concern about some of the criminal activities over the past week and made the decision to act to ensure there was no potential threat to the community,” he said.
“The priority of the New South Wales joint counter-terrorism team investigators was to make sure, no such attack ever took place.
“As you are aware, the national terrorism threat level remains at probable and we are well aware that there are still those in the community that seek to do us harm.
“The joint the counter-terrorism team partners take all extremist groups seriously, targeting all criminality regardless of the background of the perpetrator. We target criminals and criminal activity, not ideologies or background.”
NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Walton said the arrest would have come as a surprise to the south coast community.
“What it says, however, is that the joint counter-terrorism teams reach goes across the state and in fact the nation,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter where someone is, if they’re engaged in this extremist activity, we will target them and take appropriate action when the opportunity arises. We do not wait for something to occur. That is a clear message for the community.
“There was no direct threat in this instance and that is because we have taken the opportunity to arrest this individual and put them before the court now.
“Our inquiries are ongoing. We have arrested and charged one male over the weekend. There is a number of other people who are assisting us with inquiries but it is too early to speculate on more charges at this stage.”
The man is expected to appear in Nowra court this morning.
The arrest came before Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia stands in “unity and solidarity” with New Zealand on the anniversary of the “horrific terrorist attacks” in Christchurch.
“New Zealanders responded to hate with love in the aftermath of this terrible incident and that powerful message endures today,” Mr Morrison said in a statement on Sunday.
He said whether it is the Christchurch Call to Action or last year’s G20 and G7 resolutions to stamp out online hate and violence, New Zealand and Australia will continue to work to ensure something like this does not happen again.
“We owe it to the memory of the Christchurch victims,” he said.