Tony Abbott says Australian counter-terrorism forces 'do not have the luxury to wait and watch'

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Getty Images

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has highlighted the importance of a fast-acting response to the growing threat of terrorism in Australia.

Australia’s national security agency, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), currently has more than 400 high-priority investigations.

“That’s more than double the number a year ago,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in his speech on national security today.

Abbott also said the number of Australians that have ventured overseas to join the ISIS “death cult” has increased to at least 110.

In his speech detailing changes to national security, the PM said that while at least 20 of these foreign fighters are dead, there is a “homegrown threat” from “people who reject our values”.

“Even if the flow of foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq stopped today, there’s an Australian cohort of hardened jihadists who are intent on radicalising and influencing others,” Abbott said.

“The number of Australians with hands-on terrorist experience is now several times larger than those who trained earlier in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“Of that group, two-thirds became involved in terrorist activity back here in Australia.”

In October, Abbott said there were at least 60 Australians currently fighting with ISIS, al-Nusra and other terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq and around 100 people supporting the cause in Australia.

Earlier today key changes to Australia’s counter-terrorism measures recommended by the PM were announced, including the appointment of a new counter-terrorism co-ordinator and plans to strip dual nationals of their citizenship if implicated in terrorism activities.

Abbott also re-iterated the increased possibility of “lone actor” attacks in Australia.

Now, in addition to the larger scale, more complex plots that typified the post 9/11 world, such as the atrocities in Bali and London, sick individuals are acting on the caliphate’s instruction to seize people at random and kill them.

Today’s terrorism requires little more than a camera-phone, a knife and a victim.

These lone actor attacks are not new, but they pose a unique set of problems.

The PM said these individuals are “often alienated and unhappy” and “self-radicalise online”.

“Then they plan attacks which require little preparation, training or capability,” he said.

“The short lead time from the moment they decide they are going to strike, and then actually undertake the attack, makes it hard to disrupt their activities.”

The government’s Review of Australia’s Counter-Terrorism Machinery a global list of lone wolf attacks that occurred over the past three years:

U.S. law enforcement agencies said they are a long way from being able to effectively track threats of the kind a gunman posted on Instagram before his execution-style murder of two New York City policemen in December.

Abbott says Australian police do not have the luxury to wait and watch.

“They apply their best judgement – and they do so, fully aware that armchair critics, will find fault,” he said.

In January, Nasser bin Ali al-Ansi, an official with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), based in Yemen, urged Muslims to carry out lone-wolf strikes in Western countries two weeks after his group said it was behind the Charlie Hebdo Paris attacks.

As part of its review into the workings of Australia’s counter-terrorism operations, the government outlined its national framework to boost Counter Violent Extremism (CVE) which includes identifying and diverting extremists and enhancing education, communication and community support.

Funding for all national security activities plateaued after 2009-10. Despite the Abbott government’s $600 million counter-terrorism commitment over the next four years to a number of Australia’s security agencies, funding is projected to decline from 2014-15 to 2017-18 by around 7% in nominal terms.

However, Abbott said the new round of funding has given Australia’s security agencies “the resources they asked for to combat home-grown terrorism” and assist in preventing Australians participating in terror activities overseas.

Here’s a list of how some of these additional funds have been spent protecting Australia:

  • Counter-Terrorism Teams now operate at all eight major international airports;
  • Sixty-two additional biometric screening gates are being fast tracked for passengers at airports to detect and deal with people leaving on false passports;
  • Forty-nine extra AFP members are working in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra on the Foreign Fighter threat;
  • Seven new financial analysts have been engaged to help crack down on terrorist financing;
  • A new “violent jihadist network mapping unit” in ASIO has been created to improve intelligence agencies’ understanding of the threat facing Australia;
  • A Foreign Fighters Task Force has been established in the Australian Crime Commission with access to the commission’s coercive powers; and
  • The Attorney-General announced a series of measures designed to combat terrorist propaganda online.
  • We have legislated to cancel the welfare payments of individuals assessed to be a threat to security.

The review also highlights the way in which terrorist organisations have successfully penetrated communication platforms, such as social media, and how government messaging is ineffectual by comparison:

They also use social media to great effect, while empowering supporters to independently generate and distribute propaganda. Young people don’t necessarily receive information through traditional news channels, and are unlikely to trust government-led messaging. Yet Australia’s online counter radicalisation efforts are still largely passive, based on government-badged information.

NOW READ: CHART: Australia’s proposed new terrorism alert system

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