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Australia: In Al Qaeda's Sights?

3 MINS READAug 4, 2005 | 20:51 GMT
On the day of the July 21 failed London Underground bombings, New South Wales Deputy Commissioner Andrew Scipione said it is just a matter of time before a terrorist attack occurs in Australia. Scipione, speaking to the World Today radio show, cited past terrorist attacks against Australians abroad and Australia's involvement in Iraq as evidence that terrorists are targeting the country. Strategically, Australia has a significant security dilemma. It is a vast country with abundant natural resources and a small population. More people live in California, in fact, than in Australia. Immediately to Australia's north are several countries with large populations and high levels of poverty. This situation has been central to Australia's security policy since World War II, when the country faced Japanese invasion. Since then, Australia's national security strategy has been centered on maintaining a buffer zone of stable, friendly states to the north. To facilitate this, the Australians have followed an aggressive, often interventionist foreign policy — drawing the wrath of some regional militant groups, such as Jemaah Islamiyah. Australia had long been a difficult venue for terrorists, mainly because of its small Muslim immigrant population and the lack of a network of safe houses and logistical support. After Australia relaxed immigration restrictions in the 1980s, however, more and more migrants from South and East Asia settled in the country. The growth of these communities has created the potential for a terrorist support network. Melbourne and Sydney have growing populations of poor immigrants in urban areas that could provide recruitment and support bases for terrorist operatives. Since Sept. 11, terrorist have targeted Australians abroad, most notably in the attack against Australian tourists at a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia, in October 2002, the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta in October 2003 and the Australian Embassy in Jakarta in October 2004. In addition, militants have been arrested in Australia itself. Frenchman Willie Virgile Brigitte was deported to France in October 2003 for his alleged involvement in a plot to blow up the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor in Sydney. Brigitte is being held in France under an anti-terrorism law for allegedly having a role in the al Qaeda assassination operation against anti-Taliban military commander Ahmed Shah Massoud in Afghanistan in September 2001. Australia, however, has thus far not suffered a terrorist attack on it territory, largely because of the efforts of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization. It does face a serious vulnerability in that the country has vast, sparsely populated areas that are difficult to patrol — places where terrorist activities could go unnoticed. In 1993, for example, there was speculation that the Aum Shinrikyo, a Japanese doomsday sect with a known nuclear research program, was conducting tests of nuclear and biological devices at a sheep ranch in Banjawarn Station. As more immigrants come into the country and jihadist reprisals against countries that participate in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq loom, Australia is taking the possibility of a terrorist attacks at home seriously. Australian authorities have noted the events in Madrid in 2004 and in London in July — in which the U.S. coalition suffered reprisal attacks for their involvement in Iraq — and are increasing their already high level of vigilance.

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