A Kiwi teenager radicalised online planned to ram a car into a group of people in Christchurch and then stab them.
The teenager wrote a goodbye note to his mother, then started a violent incident, but has since told a psychologist when it began he “decided not to hurt anybody because he did not have the means to kill enough people”, Crown prosecutor Chris Lange told the Christchurch District Court at sentencing on Thursday.
“The reason no-one was hurt was that he did not have access to knives,” Lange said. But there was significant premeditation, and hostility towards non-Muslims.
The teen, who was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, harboured thoughts for five months of killing multiple people. He expected police to kill him once his rampage started.
After his arrest, the youth told police he was angry and had “done it for Allah”. He had left school at age 15, become socially isolated, and converted to Islam.
The court has adopted a rehabilitative approach to the teen’s sentencing, with Judge Stephen O’Driscoll releasing him on intensive supervision with a list of conditions and a warning that if he breaches the conditions or reoffends, he will likely be sent to prison.
Among the conditions – which will apply for two years while the judge monitors his progress – is counselling by a member of the local Muslim community.
The youth’s name is suppressed and the details of the offending cannot be published. He has admitted eight charges. People were frightened by his actions during the incident last year, and damage was done, but no-one was hurt before he was held until the police arrived.
Lange said even though the youth had been treated for months by the youth forensic psychiatric team, he was still seen as a high risk of reoffending, and a risk to family members and members of the public.
He said the primary consideration was the protection of the community, and the teenager’s rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
Defence counsel Anselm Williams said the youth accepted responsibility with his guilty pleas, and gave explanations to the professionals who spoke to him.
He urged intensive supervision be imposed because prison would mean limited access to the rehabilitation and socialising programmes he needed. The strict conditions proposed for the intensive supervision were “almost unheard of”, he said.
He urged the suppression orders be made. “His rehabilitation would be affected by his name being published and him becoming in any way a celebrity of sorts, or someone of note,” he said.
Judge O’Driscoll said the teen’s rehabilitation would benefit the community in the long run, but he said it was one of the most difficult sentencings he had ever been involved in. “There is a need to deter you, denounce your conduct, and protect the community.”
“There was a disinterest in what is seen as the moderate point of view. You had thoughts which most people who live in a civilised society would find unacceptable.”
Pre-sentence reports indicated he had the potential to act more violently than what happened.
He was diagnosed as having post traumatic stress disorder and would need regular intensive community follow-up.
Judge O’Driscoll told the teenager police had contacted a person from the local Muslim community to meet him regularly for counselling.
“Everyone is really wanting to help and assist you, so you don’t engage in acts of violence and harm innocent members of the community.”
He released the youth under intensive supervision for two years, under GPS monitoring and living in supervised accommodation.
The conditions include assessment, counselling and treatment as directed by the probation officer or a psychologist. He will have to live at a particular address and be monitored by the judge with regular reports.
He has interim name suppression, but that would not be made a permanent order until he successfully completed the supervision sentence. Judge O’Driscoll will get regular monitoring reports on his progress, the first in a month’s time.
VIOLENCE NOT ‘THE REAL ISLAM’
The president of the Federation of Islamic Associations, Hazim Arafeh, said from Christchurch that his organisation “completely condemned any violence towards any community and that will never change”.
The risk of young people not well informed about Islam becoming radicalised online would always be present and the federation fully co-operated with the authorities.
“If you look at the statistics just about all of them are low lifes who have no family, no achievements and no qualifications. It’s easier to recruit people who are misinformed about Islam.”
If people wanted to know about the real Islam they could approach anyone at mosques around the country.
The Minister responsible for intelligence services, Andrew Little, said there were “30 to 40 people of concern at any one time” on the Security Intelligence Service’s “watch list” of Islamic State sympathisers.
“The threat level to New Zealand is currently assessed as low, which means that, while a domestic incident is possible, it’s not expected,” Little said.