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British 15-Year-Old Given Life Sentence For Plot To Behead Police Officers At Parade

A British boy who helped plan a terrorist attack in Australia when aged just 14 has been sentenced to life in prison and must serve a minimum of five years.

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A British 15-year-old boy who was days away from masterminding a terrorist attack on an Australian armed services memorial parade has been sentenced to life in prison.

Scott Barbour / Getty Images

Members of the Australian army march past the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne on Anzac Day, 25 April 2015.

The boy, who cannot be named because of his age, was charged with inciting terrorism overseas by helping to plot an attack on an Anzac Day parade in Melbourne in April.

He had already pleaded guilty to one count of inciting terrorism and is thought to be the youngest Briton to be convicted of a terror offence.

He must serve a minimum of five years before he is eligible for release on licence.

He hugged his crying relatives in the courtroom upon the sentence being delivered, according to reporters present.

A two-day sentencing hearing that ended on Friday at Manchester crown court heard that from his suburban home in Blackburn, Lancashire, while aged just 14, the boy encouraged an Australian man to behead police officers at the parade.

Despite rainy conditions, the parade, which honours Australian and New Zealand servicemen, was attended by an estimated 85,000 people.

The court heard that the plot came within days of being carried out before the authorities were alerted.

The judge, Mr Justice Saunders, said the boy still posed a "high risk" to the public.

Mr Justice Saunders says that without the restrictive measures of custody the boy "presents a high risk to the safety of the public"

Judge: Without custody, the boy continues to present “a substantial risk” both here and abroad. #anzacplot

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The boy was arrested on 24 March. On 15 April – three days before the parade – police in Australia raided the home of his alleged co-conspirator, 18-year-old Sevdet Besim, and found a knife and phone containing a martyrdom message, the court heard.

The court heard that the boy had become Besim's "organiser and adviser" and suggested different ways to wreak havoc on the event.

Police uncovered more than 3,000 encrypted messages sent between the two. The prosecution alleged that the pair were put in touch by Abu Khaled al-Cambodi, another Australian, who has appeared in jihadi propaganda videos.

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The court heard that within hours of their first contact the pair were discussing an attack in Australia targeting police officers.

Referring to the plan, on 18 March the boy wrote "Sounds good". Besim allegedly replied: "Make sure the dogs remember this as well as their fallen 'heroes'."

A conversation between the two concerning the nature and tactics of such an attack followed. When Besim sent a picture of a knife, the boy allegedly replied: "Handle is perfect for tearing through throat," the court heard.

Besim is awaiting trial in Australia for conspiring to commit a terrorist act and was denied bail.

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"There is no doubt that there was a determination on the part of the defendant and Sevdet Besim that the plot should be carried through and the contact between the two included frequent references to the production of a martyrdom video by Besim for al-Cambodi which, no doubt, al-Cambodi intended to use for propaganda purposes," he said.

"In the event, fortunately, the authorities here and in Australia intervened and a plot that would in all probability have resulted in a number of deaths was thwarted."

The boy was radicalised by online jihadi propaganda and was on a government deradicalisation programme called Channel, the court heard.

But he had underlying problems and struggled in school; the court heard how, in March 2014, he threatened to cut a teaching assistant's throat and watch him bleed to death.

This destructive attitude continued and escalated and before long he had threatened to behead his teachers, according to evidence heard in court.

The boy later spoke of his desire to be a suicide bomber. By the end of last year he had threatened several teachers with beheading.

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The boy was highly active on Twitter, where he grew his account to 24,000 followers within two weeks of opening it.

The court heard how he became a "celebrity" in the online jihadi community and encouraged others to take part in violent acts.

On the Internet the boy wrote to one IS-supporting woman "Let ur kids grow! Lols....And then booooom"

In his sentencing, Saunders said the boy had been "used" by older extremists and that the blame must lie with them.

Judge: Adult extremists groomed the boy and then started to using him to carry out their wishes. #anzacplot

Judge: They succeeded in turning him into a deeply committed radical extremist. #anzacplot

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James Pickup QC: There is still work to be done. If the boy were released today there may still be a risk - but his behaviour is changing

#anzacplot boy's lawyer tells court that expert evidence demonstrates there is scope to believe his radicalisation can be reversed.

At Friday's hearing the judge reiterated that the boy could not be named.

Judge: The boy will remain anonymous because of his age. Public interest lies in the need to try to rehabilitate him, rather than name him

Detective Chief Superintendent Tony Mole from the North West counterterrorism unit said the boy's young age was no barrier to the police launching an investigation:

After the information was discovered on the boy's phone, it was clear he was encouraging another person to commit an act of terrorism and innocent lives were going to be in danger. A swift investigation was launched and we, alongside the relevant authorities in the UK and Australia, acted quickly.

People will be understandably be shocked by the age of the boy however this should not detract from the horror of what he was planning. It is also a clear message that you will face prosecution, no matter how old you are.

I want to reiterate that it is everybody's responsibility to tackle extremism and radicalisation. It is vital communities and families contact us and bring to our attention anyone they perceive may be vulnerable or in danger of escalating towards terrorism.

This Defendant has admitted that in March 2014 he was part of a plot to carry out killings in Australia on Anzac Day. That is the day on which Australians honour those who have died in conflict. The day was chosen for the killings because of its importance to Australia and its people. It was the day when the killings would have the greatest impact. The victims were to be police officers who were to be killed either with a car or by being beheaded.The part played by S was to assist in the organisation of the attack, encourage the killer to carry out the killings; ensure that he didn't back out and give him support. In carrying out that role S suggested that the killer should find a lonely person, break into his or her house and behead the person to get some practice before the planned attack. The plan was intended to end with the killer killing himself.Thanks to the intervention of the police in this country and in Australia, that attack and the deaths which were intended to follow never happened. Had the authorities not intervened, S would have continued to play his part hoping and intending that the outcome would be the deaths of a number of people. In March 2015 he would have been pleased if that had happened. He would have welcomed the notoriety that he would have achieved.S was only 14 when he helped to plan the killings and the intended killer was only 18. S became involved because he was a radical extremist driven by his belief that killing indiscriminately was permitted in pursuit of his aims.It is correct that S was not the one who thought up the idea or worked out the details of the planning. Nevertheless, in my judgment he played a vital part. He was there for the intended killer to talk through his ideas. He had some ideas about the planning himself and he encouraged the killer in what he was going to do. He ensured that the killer didn't have second thoughts or weaken in his resolve. Lone killers no doubt need support and they are much more likely to carry out an atrocity if they have the help of someone to whom they can turn.The revelation in this case that someone of only 14 could have become so radicalised that he was prepared to carry out this role intending and wishing that people should die is chilling.

Patrick Smith is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Patrick Smith at patrick.smith@buzzfeed.com.

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