SYDNEY, Australia — Australian police charged a man with alleged neo-Nazi interests on terrorism offenses, officials said Monday, just weeks after the country’s top spy warned of the growing danger of far-right militants in the country.
The 21-year-old man from a town south of Sydney was arrested Saturday for allegedly planning terrorist acts, including by trying to purchase online weapons and materials to make bombs.
He was due to appear in court later Monday and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for the charges, police said.
Several other people were being questioned in connection to the case, but have not been charged.
“What we know is this person had anti-government sentiment, he was anti-Semitic, he has Neo-Nazi interests and he has anti-Indigenous interests,” said Mark Walton, head of the New South Wales police counter-terrorism force.
“Unfortunately, he has evolved with an ideology that really is one of hate against a lot of different groups,” he told reporters.
The arrest came a day before the one-year anniversary of the Christchurch mosque massacre in New Zealand, where an Australian self-avowed white supremacist gunned down 51 Muslim worshipers during Friday prayers.
Police said the Christchurch anniversary led police to move against the man arrested at the weekend but there was no indication he had planned an attack to coincide with Sunday’s anniversary.
They said the suspect was considering “a number of options” for an attack, including on the electricity grid in his home area on the coast south of Sydney.
Following last year’s massacre in New Zealand by Australian Brenton Tarrant, Australian authorities were criticized for neglecting the threat from right-wing and white-supremacist extremists in the country.
Last month the head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) highlighted the danger of right-wing extremism in his latest threat assessment report.
“In Australia, the extreme right-wing threat is real and it is growing,” ASIO director general Mike Burgess said.
“In suburbs around Australia, small cells regularly meet to salute Nazi flags, inspect weapons, train in combat and share their hateful ideology,” he said.
“These groups are more organised and security-conscious than they were in previous years.”