While the NSW Joint Counter Terrorism Team is now investigating last night’s fatal stabbing of 29-year-old Caltex service station attendant Zeeshan Akbar in Queanbeyan and connected incidents, the matters should be considered criminal rather than terror-related at this stage according to Acting Australian Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.
“It’s very dangerous to start jumping to conclusions and saying it was a terrorist event,” Mr Joyce told ABC News tonight.
“I mean it was certainly a criminal event and criminal events get investigated and when the proper process has taken place, we’ll have more information to tell people about.
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“But there’s nothing worse than jumping out and saying it was a terrorist event if you find out later that it wasn’t. It was a criminal event, no doubt about that.
“It is being investigated, if there’s further information that needs to be disclosed to the public in due course, that’s precisely what we’ll do, but let’s just keep it where it is at the moment, it is a criminal event.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had earlier acknowledged that the circumstances were “sufficient to warrant concern” in relation to a possible terror link or motive.
Two teenaged Queanbeyan boys, aged 16 and 15, remain in custody in the ACT in relation to the incident following their arrest early this morning in relation to a cross-border crime spree that left the service station attendant dead and another man seriously injured.
Following information obtained by investigators, the NSW Police Force has activated its counter terrorism arrangements, including an investigation into the matters by the NSW Joint-Counter Terrorism Team.
NSW Police Force Deputy Commissioner, Specialist Operations Catherine Burn told a media conference this afternoon that investigators would examine the motivation behind the attack and other criminal incidents that occurred in Queanbeyan and the ACT overnight.
“I want to reassure the community that there is no ongoing threat in relation to this matter at this stage,” she said.
“We have two teenagers in custody and sufficient information to believe the actions of one of those teenagers may be related to terrorism.
“That information comes from physical evidence at the scene and other sources.
“This investigation is in its infancy. We are also looking at number of other incidents involving an attempted robbery at a bottle shop in the ACT, an attack on a homeless man in Queanbeyan, an assault at a unit in Queanbeyan and later an attack where a man was stabbed and his vehicle stolen.”
ABC News reported tonight that police believe the service station attendant’s blood was used to write the letters “IS” on the window of the service station following the attack late last night, and that there were indications the 16-year-old was linked to terrorist activity.
“Police say he’d been searching IS propaganda online,” ABC journalist Elise Scott reported.
AFP Deputy Commissioner Michael Phelan said the community should continue to go about their daily lives, and encouraged anyone with information regarding incidents in Queanbeyan overnight to contact authorities.
“Anyone with information on this matter should come forward, no matter how small or insignificant you may think that information could be,” he said.
“The public should continue to exercise caution and we urge people to report anything that doesn’t look right to the National Security Hotline by calling 1800 123 400. Life-threatening situations should be reported to the police by calling Triple Zero (000), while information can be provided to Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.”
The terrorist threat in Australia has not changed; under the National Terrorism Threat Advisory System (NTTAS), the level is Probable. Credible intelligence, assessed by security agencies, indicates that individuals or groups continue to possess the intent and capability to conduct a terrorist attack in Australia.
The NSW Joint Counter Terrorism Team – comprising the NSW Police Force, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, and the NSW Crime Commission – maintains strong links with intelligence and other agencies to provide understanding of issues and threats.
The two teens have yet to be charged and are expected to appear in court tomorrow.
Pictured above is Zeeshan Akhbar, the service station attendant who died as a result of stab wounds sustained late last night. Photo: Facebook