Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has revealed security agencies have been monitoring “a heightened level of terrorist chatter” since the Martin Place siege in which two hostages were killed along with the gunman, Man Haron Monis.
As the country starts shutting down for the Christmas holidays, Abbott warned that there remained people in Australia with “the intent and capability” to carry out attacks on Australia and said people should remain vigilant.
The PM called a meeting of the national security committee of cabinet today where new ministers, including Kevin Andrews, sworn in as defence minister earlier, were briefed by security officials including ASIO on the increased terrorism chatter.
He said police and security agencies had told ministers that “in the wake of the Martin Place brush with terrorism… there has been a heightened level of chatter amongst people who we would normally think of as terrorist sympathisers.”
He said it was important to “keep the public as informed as I can”.
The term chatter is used in security circles to refer to exchanges of emails, phone calls and text messages by people under surveillance, or messages that are intercepted because they contain suspicious content.
“Australians should go about their lives as normal, because what terrorists are trying to do is to scare us out of being ourselves. I just want to assure people that now and always, while the terror threat is heightened, that our police and security agencies will be very active and very visible,” Abbott said.
In a media conference called in Sydney, Abbott reminded Australians that the national terrorism threat level remained “high”.
This is one below the highest level, “extreme”, in which an attack is believed imminent or is already underway.
“At this level, an attack is likely, we don’t know when and how an attack may come, but we do know that there are people with the intent and the capability to carry out further attacks,” Abbott said.
“We know that there are people out there with evil intentions and we will do everything we can to protect you from them,” Abbott said, adding the first responsibility of the government was the safety of the public.”
The siege in Martin Place was initially feared to be the work of organised terrorists because a flag carrying a statement of faith in Islam was displayed in the window of the cafe and the gunman, Man Haron Monis, had requested an Islamic State flag. Monis was later revealed to be a self-styled religious extremist with a long criminal history.
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