EDITORIAL: Terrorism: Australia's moment of truth
by Peter Westmore
News Weekly, November 19, 2005
The latest arrests of Muslim extremists confirm that Australia is a terrorist target.
Last week's raids by state and federal police, ASIO and officers of the NSW Crime Commission on an Islamist terrorist network, appear to have averted, for the time being, a terrorist attack in Australia.
The Victorian Police Chief Commissioner, Christine Nixon, who has been extremely circumspect in the past in identifying possible terrorist actions, stated:
"We were concerned that an attack was imminent and we believe that we have sufficient evidence to go before the courts to show that.
"It became more obvious to us as information became available to us that the way these people were behaving was of serious concern and that we needed to interrupt that activity and operation as soon as we could."
About 16 arrests were made in Sydney and Melbourne. The nine Victorian men arrested have been charged with being members of a proscribed terrorist group. One of the nine, Abu Ben Brika, also known as Abu Bakr, is alleged to be the spiritual leader of the group.
The group are alleged to have been stockpiling chemicals which would enable them to carry out a terrorist attack.
The NSW Police Commissioner, Ken Moroney, said, "I'm satisfied that we have disrupted what I would regard as the final stages of a large-scale terrorist attack ... here in Australia."
While there are inevitable concerns at the expansion of police powers to handle the problem of terrorism, recent events show that the Prime Minister, John Howard, acted prudently in legislating to give police wider powers to detain suspects, and otherwise deal with the threat of Islamist terrorism.
Despite claims by Government critics that the anti-terror laws were introduced for political purposes, the latest events show that Sydney, Melbourne and other Australian cities are just as vulnerable as London, New York, Madrid, Jakarta or Bali.
Significantly, just as those involved in the terrorist attacks on the London Underground were British citizens, most of those detained in Sydney and Melbourne are Australian.
This shows that the problem is embedded in extremist elements of the Islamic community in Australia.
Despite the fact that no acts of politically-motivated terrorism have occurred in Australia recently, there have been a number of attempts to launch terrorist attacks in recent years.
The most significant was the attempt to establish a terrorist cell in Sydney by the Frenchman, Willy Brigitte, who was deported on October 2003.
Brigitte, a convert to Islam, attempted to recruit Australians to a group called Lashkar e Toiba, to carry out major terrorist attacks in Australia. Working with a Sydney architect, Faheem Lodhi, Brigitte allegedly selected targets including army bases, the NSW electricity grid and the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor.
Police claim Lodhi downloaded aerial photos of army bases and purchased a map of the electricity grid. They also say he made inquiries in the name of a fictitious company to a chemical supplier about buying agricultural chemicals which could be used in bomb-making, and had acquired manuals on explosives. Lodhi is now facing trial in New South Wales.
Police arrested Brigitte, and he was deported to France where he is currently imprisoned for terrorism-related offences.
A Sydney student, Izhar ul-Haque, was arrested and charged last year with attending a 21-day terrorist training course run by Lashkar e Toiba in Pakistan. He faces trial on training with a proscribed terrorist organisation.
Lashkar e Toiba, formed in 1989 to fight for the liberation of Kashmir from Indian (Hindu) rule, has since widened the scope of its operations since the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, to train Pakistani terrorists for operations in other countries.
An Australian, Jack Roche, who also converted to Islam, was sentenced to nine years imprisonment in 2004, for planning to bomb the Israeli embassy in Canberra, on instructions from Jemaah Islamiah (JI), the South-East Asian affiliate of al Qaeda.
Roche received a reduced sentence as a result of his decision to surrender and co-operate with the police and intelligence agencies, including naming an Indonesian, who left Australia shortly after the 2002 Bali bombing, as the local head of JI in Australia.
Australia has been fortunate to escape the fate of many other nations in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, which have suffered severe terrorist attacks.
The Australian involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq has led to numerous threats against Australia and Australians.
International communications have made it easier for terrorists to network around the world.
The latest arrests confirm that Australia is a terrorist target, and demonstrate that it is only through both expanded intelligence operations and co-operation from the Australian people, that the threat of a barbarous attack on innocent civilians can be averted.
- Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.