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Police keep eye on Muslim communities

Date

Adam Cooper

Victoria Police concedes the anti-terrorism raids in Melbourne last week and the violent Islamic protests in Sydney at the weekend could heighten tension in Muslim communities in Victoria.

Victoria Police and their federal counterparts last week raided 12 properties across Melbourne and seized weapons, computers and imitation firearms, and later charged a man, 23, with terrorism-facilitation charges.

In Sydney at the weekend, six people were charged and 25 were injured in clashes with police during protests targeting the US consulate in outrage over a film mocking Islam, Innocence of Muslims.

Deputy Commissioner Tim Cartwright today said Victoria Police had no reason to believe Melbourne would witness a repeat of the weekend's riot in Sydney.

He said the force was in regular contact with Islamic community leaders and was monitoring key locations and social media in a pre-emptive bid to prepare for any outbreaks of violence. He said police command had a large number of officers at the ready around the clock if trouble did occur.

“We're quite confident what we've seen there [in Sydney] won't occur in Victoria,” Mr Cartwright said today.

“Any sort of violent behaviour of this nature, any sort of violent protest, we're prepared to deal with and we've demonstrated quite recently that we can get numbers to the ball quite quickly.

“Make no mistake, if people do intend on taking on this sort of action we'll be acting quickly and firmly.”

Mr Cartwright said police would keep monitoring events in Sydney and that their intelligence suggested there were no looming signs of trouble in Melbourne. He was also confident community leaders would contact authorities if they sensed any trouble.

But Mr Cartwright conceded the aftermath of the Sydney riot meant there was a risk Muslims could be attacked in Victoria.

"There's always a risk that people who hold racist views will take this as an authorisation to attack Muslims," he said.

"That is a reasonable concern and one we need to watch. We're talking to our Islamic leaders and all sorts of faith leaders across the state to make sure we minimise those risks."

Mr Cartwright also admitted last week's raids could heighten sensitivity and unease in Melbourne's Islamic communities, and would speak with leaders regularly to minimise any potential hostility.

The al-Furqan Islamic Centre in Springvale South, at the centre of last week's raids, has claimed the raids were heavy-handed, racist and intimidatory in nature and were used to plant key evidence in counter-terrorism cases.

But Mr Cartwright denied police had used excessive force.

"My advice is that our people — it was a combination of our people and the Australian Federal Police — acted within policy," he said.

"I've checked, there's been no complaints made directly to us about that, but everything I've seen indicates our people acted reasonably."

Meanwhile, Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark today said he was pleased Islamic groups in the state had condemned the violence in Sydney.

"We are very fortunate that here in Victoria we live in a generally open and tolerant and multicultural society," Mr Clark said.

"We would very much hope that what has been seen in Sydney would not be repeated here in Victoria."

- with AAP

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