Age of terrorism suspects trending down

Australian Federal Police commissioner Andrew Colvin says counter-terrorism agencies remain concerned about the age and relative youth of people popping up on their radars.

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Mr Colvin has confirmed that 36 people have been charged in relation to 13 separate counter-terrorism operations since December 2013, adding that all cases are “ongoing and complex”.

Appearing before a Senate committee hearing in Canberra, Mr Colvin also confirmed two individuals were currently subject to control orders – placing severe restrictions on their movements and associations – and arrest warrants had been issued for 11 others who remain offshore.

The figures, Mr Colvin said, “mirror the escalation of the threat out of Syria and Iraq”.

“Small, unpredictable attacks are of great concern to ourselves and our partner agencies, as is the age and relative youth of people that are coming up on our radar as being of concern.”

The comments provide an updated snapshot on the counter-terrorism activities of the AFP, and the first since Mr Colvin appeared before the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee last May.

Mr Colvin’s remarks also come after the nation’s spy chief earlier cautioned the same committee that the age of Australians supporting groups such as Islamic State, also known as ISIL, was trending down and that some of those individuals were “astonishingly young”.

ASIO director Duncan Lewis earlier told the committee that “a couple of years ago typically we would have been talking about people in their late 20s, early 30s”.

“By the start or middle of last year we were … down to the teens.

“If you asked me for a median without being precise I would say it’s in the early 20s, but the trend is down and we do have at the bottom end of that spectrum some people of astonishingly young age.”

Mr Lewis confirmed at least 45 Australians had been killed in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, with the number possibly as high as 49.

There were 110 Australians fighting or engaged with terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq – a minor decrease since Mr Lewis last appeared before the committee last May – and about 190 people in Australia who continued to actively support ISIL.