Man planned beheadings, blowing up train in Australian city
A man who threatened to cut the heads off police with a knife in inner Sydney called a friend to say that when he got out of jail "people are going to die, it's going to be f***ing beautiful", a court has heard.
"I'm gearing myself up for martyrdom," Blake Nicolas Pender said in a phone call from Silverwater Correctional Centre to a woman he knew on June 27, 2017.
"I'm going to become a martyr some day. I'm joking, I'm joking.
" … Allahu Akbar, f*** you all, you're all dead.
"I'm going to cut heads off … all right, I'll give you a call Wednesday, I love you heaps … I love you, I love you, Allahu Akbar, I love you."
Pender said he also had plans to "blow up a train" and that it was "a good night to kill somebody" - a phrase he got "off a movie, (where) the guy's got a gun and he's hanging outside the door".
The 28-year-old pleaded guilty last week, on what was anticipated to be the first day of his NSW Supreme Court trial, to knowingly possessing a knife on or about June 14, 2017 connected with the preparation of a terrorist act or acts.
The indictment states the terrorist act involved the intention to advance Islam by violence in circumstances where, if carried out, it would cause serious physical harm to a person or death.
He also admitted to threatening to injure a judicial officer, having verbally abused magistrate Joanne Keogh when she refused him bail in Central Local Court on the day of his arrest.
Pender - who has a green tattoo of a cross under his right eye - gave evidence at his sentence hearing today that he has since renounced the Islamic faith and is studying Judaism. He said he memorised the Hebrew alphabet and "vowel points" over the past five to six weeks and had asked for a copy of the Torah.
Under questioning from crown prosecutor Patricia McDonald SC, Pender denied it was because he had been facing the prospect of a trial and imprisonment.
Justice Ian Harrison said: "That might not be his last port of religious call."
Pender gave evidence he converted to Islam when he was 16 but renounced it when he was 17. The second time he converted, in 2015, he lived at times at Harris Park mosque and adopted an Islamic dress style.
The court heard he spent part of his childhood with a "deeply Christian" foster family.
When asked by Ms McDonald if he used to perform his Islamic prayers at the back of the family's place of worship, Pender said, "No, I don't recall that at all."
The prosecutor said Pender downloaded a copy of the Islamic State terrorist group's flag on a stolen phone nine minutes before he approached four police officers who were dealing with another person on Elizabeth St in Surry Hills on June 14, 2017.
Pender had taken ice between one and two days prior to the incident.
"He does not cross the road, he goes directly towards them … with the knife concealed up his sleeve and stands behind the young female officer in a menacing manner," Ms McDonald said.
"There is consciousness, there is a decision about what I'm going to do."
She said he also expressed "quite a logical course of thinking" when he continued with the phone call to the woman from jail despite appearing to acknowledge it was being recorded.
"I've been outrageous, you haven't cut me off, I'll keep going," the prosecutor said of Pender.
Justice Harrison questioned how he was to determine whether or not Pender was "influenced by a disordered mind" at the time of the offence.
"People that tell police in the streets of Surry Hills that they're going to cut their heads off aren't people we come across on a regular basis," the judge said.
"That strikes me as very strange behaviour."
In relation to Pender's threats towards the magistrate, Justice Harrison said: "I've been called a few things over the years, I haven't been subjected to that."
"Were I to be … one of my first thoughts, I think, would be that is very strange behaviour," he said.
He wondered whether Pender's comments in the phone call about beheadings was "bravado".
The judge said Pender was also "curiously unguarded" when he spoke to police, with support from a mental health nurse, in a recorded interview in August 2017.
The prosecutor said Pender decided to take part in the conversation "because he wants to hear what the police have to say" despite his legal advice not to.
"I'll just have to come to terms with this," Justice Harrison said.
"It's not consistent in my experience in this job … that people ordinarily make statements so openly against their self interest if, to use the vernacular, they have their wits about them."
The judge noted Pender has been "ticking boxes" in the mental health and Justice Health systems for a long time.
Ms McDonald said Pender had adopted or adhered to radical Islamic ideology from October 2015, and again in May 2016, and expressed certain sentiments "about conduct that he would want to participate in".
He had previously posted on Facebook about martyrdom, writing: "Consider me the first droplet of blood in the river that will follow", the prosecutor said.
"You're left with the position where, for a period of time about 20 months, he's expressing himself in a public way … on the internet and to others, about radical Islamic thought and then is arrested for these offences," Ms McDonald said.
Two days after the phone call from jail, Pender told a registered nurse that he expected to receive a two-year jail sentence for the knife possession.
But by January 2018, he'd been charged by police with the terrorism offence.
Pender's barrister, Jo Gallagher, today said her client had written a letter of apology to the magistrate, Ms Keogh, after finally having access to a pen and paper.
She said he "has led a chaotic, erratic existence" characterised by his ongoing mental health issues.
Ms Gallagher said he had been abusive towards police and people in authority before, speaking at one stage in Russian, then Arabic, and has "turned his mind now to Hebrew".
Justice Harrison told Pender his matter was "detailed and complicated" but he intends to sentence him on December 18.
The 28-year-old gave a thumbs-up to his barrister as he was taken from the courtroom.