Twelve men and boys living within the Australian community are capable of committing an act of terror such as killing a random member of the public, police say.
They are part of a larger group of 19 men and boys, seven of whom are in prison.
More than 30 people have been brought before the courts on terror-related charges since Operation Appleby launched in September last year – Australia’s largest counter-terrorism raids to date.
Most of those people have been under investigation for more than a year.
The Australian Federal Police’s counter-terrorism chief, Neil Gaughan, told Four Corners a group of people capable of committing an act of violence were being closely watched.
“I think there can be no doubt that there’s a small group in Sydney that are engaged in activity which wants to upset the Australian way of life,” Assistant Commissioner Gaughan said.
“The first series of Appleby raids saw one person arrested with a large number of police involved.
“Since that time, 10 of those persons involved in the raids are currently in custody or before the court and we’ve laid in excess of 30 charges.”
Some of those under surveillance are subject to control orders because police believe there is an “unacceptable, high risk they will commit a terrorist attack”.
“Our first point of call in relation to these investigations is where there’s been a criminal offence committed we arrest, charge and prosecute,” Assistant Commissioner Gaughan said.
“If we don’t meet that threshold, the next step we look at is a control order.”
Fears recruiters are targeting younger men
In March this year, an interim control order was imposed on terrorism suspect Ahmad Saiyer Naizmand.
Naizmand, 20, attempted to use his brother’s passport to leave the country last year, but was stopped in Dubai and returned to Sydney by the Australian Federal Police.
The control order prohibits Naizmand from associating with 18 males, two of whom have were charged in connection with the Parramatta shooting of Curtis Cheng by 15-year-old Farhad Jabar.
The control order states: “Members are a part of a close knit group of men in Sydney who strongly support the ideology and activities of the proscribed terrorist organisation, Islamic State, and are willing to commit a terrorist attack.”
A telephone conversation intercepted by police that prompted last year’s Appleby raids showed the group was looking for someone to carry out a martyrdom operation.
However, they had struggled to find a suitable person because of intense police surveillance.
According to a statement of facts obtained by the ABC, Islamic State’s top recruiter, Mohammad Ali Baryalei, said: “We want to do this work but I want this work to be continuous.”
A man accused of terror-related offences, who cannot be named for legal reasons, allegedly told Baryalei they may have found a solution.
“What the big brother suggested was that a Jahil do the work,” he said.
Jahil is an Arabic word for an “ignorant person”. Police believe “ignorant person” may refer to a child.
NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn told Four Corners there were increasing concerns some members of the group were targeting younger men.
“What we can say is there is the very real issue at the moment where we are dealing with a small group of people who have become radicalised but who are turning that radicalisation into a form of violent extremism,” she said.
“And the unfortunate reality is that it might be impacting on people as young as 15 or maybe even younger.”
‘Extreme ideology being passed through generations’
Counter-terrorism consultant Shandon Harris-Hogan told Four Corners the extreme ideology being embraced by the men can be connected back to historic terrorist plots in Australia, like Operation Pendennis.
“Overwhelmingly individuals have a familial or friendship connection,” he said.
“There is an interconnected network of individuals who transcend operational cells, and within that group there is clear examples of ideology being passed on from father to son, mother to daughter and between spouses, cousins and siblings.”
Police said the mastermind behind the Pendennis plot, Abdul Nacer Benbrika, continued to wield significant influence.
“I certainly don’t think we can discount the influence of people like Benbrika,” Assistant Commissioner Gaughan said.
“We do know that certain people who have travelled to Syria and Iraq had visited Benbrika prior to their travel.
“He is a person that we take significant interest in, but he’s very clever – he knows that he’s being monitored by law enforcement and others and is very careful about what he says and does.”
Authorities are currently looking in to how a 15-year-old boy from Sydney could be prompted to commit a terrorist attack on Australian soil.
Mr Harris-Hogan said, whatever happened, it was unlikely Farhad Jabar turn to radicalism by himself.
“Radicalisation isn’t any form of top-down recruitment. There isn’t usually an unknown predatory figure somewhere on the internet, it isn’t individuals being brainwashed,” he said.
“People aren’t radicalised by online propaganda, it’s fundamentally a social process.
“There are very, very, very few individuals who actually radicalise alone in the true lone wolf sense of the word … those who radicalise in isolation are still exceedingly rare.”
– with Geoff Thompson, Jaya Balendra, Ali Russell, Joel Tozer and Suzanne Dredge