A 14-year-old Islamic State supporter yelled abuse at Christian school students and flew the terrorist group’s flag through western Sydney just two days before his family were targeted in sweeping counter-terrorism raids.
The boy is the third member of his family to come under the gaze of authorities for supporting the powerful terrorist group, whose recruitment strategy is unashamedly aimed at young people in western countries.
The teenager, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, is among the youngest Islamic State supporters to emerge in Sydney but community leaders have warned that his case is becoming disturbingly common.
The boy has pleaded guilty in Parramatta Children’s Court to driving past the Maronite College of the Holy Family in Harris Park on September 16 and yelling death threats at students and one teacher.
He sat in the passenger seat waving an Islamic State flag out the window while his friend, an 18-year-old who also cannot be named because he was a juvenile at the time, drove the red hatchback.
Two days later, the boy’s family home in western Sydney was raided as part of a federal investigation into an alleged plot to behead a random member of the public in Sydney and drape an Islamic State flag over them.
Police officers searched the family’s unit looking for Islamic State material and seized laptops and mobile phones but no one was charged.
The following week, the 14-year-old and his friend were arrested over the attack on the Maronite College and charged with offensive conduct and intimidating a school staff member.
The boy appeared in Parramatta Children’s Court on Monday in tracksuit pants and sneakers and had his night curfew removed while he awaited sentencing later this year.
He has been on strict bail after the court deemed that his conduct towards the children and a teacher at the school was “totally inappropriate… in the current climate”.
Joseph Wakim, a spokesman for the Maronite College, said the students were shaken up following the incident and found it hard to believe that international events involving Islamic State had “come to front gate of their school, of all places in Australia”.
The school has since had a security guard at their gates every day.
However, Mr Wakim, who is also the founder of the Australian Arabic Council, said he was more concerned about the number of young, vulnerable boys being sucked into the Islamic State ideology.
“The incident was really a metaphor locally for what is happening globally,” he said.
“It begs bigger questions – who was the driver, what was their destination and how did he get there? And they are the same questions we ask internationally. Who is driving these kids? What is their destination – is it Syria? And how did they get there? What are the psychological signs we might have missed before they reach the airport?”
It follows the case of four western Sydney brothers who left for Syria earlier this month, telling their parents they were travelling to Thailand for a holiday.
Islamic State have openly focused their recruitment on young westerners, such as the Bankstown teenager Abdullah Elmir, who told his parents he was going on a fishing trip but recently emerged as the star of a glossy Islamic State propaganda video, waging jihad on the west.
American journalist Theo Padnos, who was held hostage in Syria for two years and observed eight-year-old children being trained to wear suicide belts and chant anti-Western anthems, said terrorist groups were recruiting Westerners who would indoctrinate their young children to bring the message of hate back home and carve out mini-Islamic empires.
Australian children as young as seven have been brainwashed and drawn into the overseas conflict.
Khaled Sharrouf’s two sons, the youngest aged seven, are with him in Syria and Mohamed Elomar’s four young children were recently stopped at Sydney Airport, allegedly on their way to join their father on the battlefield.
NSW Police and Department of Family and Community Services are also investigating a video of children aged six to 13 chanting anti-western slogans at an event in western Sydney last year organised by fringe group Hizb-ut Tahrir.
“For adults to be manipulating young Australian children and indoctrinating them with violent ideologies is deplorable,” NSW Minister for Citizenship and Communities Victor Dominello said following the emergence of the video.
The 14-year-old and 18-year-old boys will be sentenced in December over the incident.
A recent letter to parents at the Maronite College said the 14-year-old had agreed to write an apology.