A group of youths accused of launching an anti-Semitic stream of abuse at a bus load of Jewish primary school children in Sydney's east were dressed in school uniforms and produced bus passes to board the vehicle, police say.
Five youths, aged between 15 and 17, were arrested in Rose Bay in the early hours of Thursday morning but were too drunk to be interviewed at the time, superintendent Jason Box, the Eastern Suburbs local area commander, said.
Police are still searching for one boy following the incident on the route 660 school bus, which Superintendent Box said was travelling between Maroubra and Bondi Beach on Wednesday afternoon.
Superintendent Box said the bus driver did not appear to be aware of what had occurred.
"I've been informed that some of the six juveniles had bus passes and were in partial school uniform and I can only assume that the bus driver believed that they were school children due to their age and what they were wearing and that bus passes were produced," he said.
Police allege the offenders got on the bus on Darley Road in Randwick about 3.50pm and, as the bus travelled towards Bondi, they racially taunted and made physical threats to the children, some as young as five.
One parent, Jackie Blackburn, later told police that the offenders were drunk at the time and yelled insults such as "kill the Jews", "free Palestine" and "Heil Hitler" during their assault, which one police officer described as a "horrific" incident of bullying and intimidation.
Mrs Blackburn told Channel Nine that her eldest daughter, aged 12, was distraught when she phoned her from the bus and described how the teens were threatening to slit the children's throats.
"I was actually chasing the bus, I was just saying to the kids 'Where are you? Where are you?'," Mrs Blackburn said.
Superintendent Box said the 25 children on the State Transit Authority bus were all aged between five and 12 years and, while they were not physically harmed, they were traumatised by the event. The children were from Jewish schools in Sydney's eastern suburbs - Mount Sinai College, Emanuel School and Moriah College.
He could not say whether the alleged offenders had been at school that day, or where they were from.
The alleged offenders got off the bus on Bronte Road at Bondi Junction, police said. A number of children called their parents, who met them at Bondi Junction and called police.
Superintendent Box said at 3.30am on Thursday, police were called to Rose Bay over an "unrelated incident", which he would not elaborate on.
An officer who went to the scene allegedly then recognised the five teenagers from the bus CCTV footage. They were arrested and taken to Waverley Police Station, but Superintendent Box said they were not in a state to be interviewed.
"They were released into the custody of their parents and guardians this morning due to their intoxication," he said. They were expected to be interviewed on Thursday afternoon. No charges have been laid.
Superintendent Box appealed for the one remaining teenager to contact police.
"There is one more male juvenile that we wish to speak to about this matter. He knows who he is. I would like him to present himself at Waverley Police Station. If not, I'm confident during the course of the investigation today we will be able to identify this outstanding juvenile," he said.
Superintendent Box said he believed Wednesday's verbal assault was an opportunistic attack by a group of drunk youths who had not considered the consequences of their actions.
"Once they've got on this bus, I believe that they've then seen the target audience and that's encouraged their behaviour. I do not believe it was targeted," he said.
"I know international incidents at the moment do cause concern, but in my opinion it is isolated and random and I'm hopeful that everything will be put in context for this incident."
Victor Dominello, the Minister for Citizenship and Communities, said he was "deeply disturbed" by the incident. Mr Dominello said public abuse and intimidation on the grounds of race or religion was "deplorable".
"The people of NSW will never excuse it and those who are alleged to have subjected school children as young as five to this anti-Semitic attack should face the full force of the law," he said.
"We are lucky to live in one of the most harmonious multicultural societies in the world but we must never be complacent. It is incumbent upon all citizens to expose those whose actions are based on racial hatred and who seek to import overseas conflict onto our streets."
Vic Alhadeff, chief executive of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, said he visited some of the school children and their families shortly after the incident occurred on Wednesday afternoon.
"I have to say that the children were traumatised," Mr Alhadeff said.
"These are young children, aged between five and 12, doing nothing more sinister than going home from school on a bus on an afternoon, when a group of young people get on and assault them for no reason other than the faith to which they belong.
"This is unacceptable. It is not what we do in Australia. We live in a country which comprises 200 different cultures and groups, and that diversity is what makes us the richest country in the world.
"That said, there is no place for racism, there is no place for bigotry. That is what we saw yesterday. That is what makes education and leadership and racial vilification legislation so important."
Mr Alhadeff said he believed the recent violence in Gaza was a stimulus for the attack.
"It is documented that whenever there are major incidents happening in the Middle East, there will be those who use what is happening in the Middle East as a pretext to lash out against the Jewish community. We have seen that in the past, and we saw this in yesterday's horrific incident," he said.
Any witnesses or anyone with information about the incident has been urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 00 or visit the Crime Stoppers online reporting page.
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