Australia faces a rising threat from home-grown “violent jihadists”, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said yesterday, unveiling a counter-terrorism blueprint which increases security measures for visitors from 10 countries.
Rudd announced security improvements, including face-screening and finger-printing, to better monitor visitors from countries assessed as a serious security risk. He did not name the targeted countries
The new biometric checks come amid heightened security concerns in Western countries following the failed attempt by a Nigerian man to bring down a commercial airliner bound for the United States on Christmas Day.
Rudd said recent counter-terrorism successes in Asia and elsewhere had been offset by the rise in the number of local groups inspired by radical Islam.
“Australia now faces an increased terrorist threat from people born or raised in Australia who take inspiration from violent jihadist narratives,” Rudd told reporters.
“Prior to the rise of self-styled jihadist terrorism fostered by al Qaeda, Australia itself was not a specific target. Now we are,” the security report said.
Last week, five Australian Muslim men convicted of plotting a terror attack in retaliation for Australia’s involvement in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were jailed for terms ranging from 23 to 28 years.
Australia will target travellers from 10 still-unnamed countries, but likely to include Yemen and Somalia and surrounding regions, for stringent visa checks, Rudd said.
Australia has never suffered a major peacetime attack on home soil, although over 100 Australians have been killed in militant attacks overseas since 2001, mostly in neighbouring Indonesia.
Since 2001, 35 people in Australia have faced or continue to face terrorism charges, with 20 convicted of terrorism offences. More than 40 Australians have also had passports revoked for security reasons.
“Terrorism continues to pose a serious threat and a serious challenge to Australia’s security interests and that threat is not diminishing,” Rudd said.
“The government’s security intelligence agencies assess that terrorism has become a persistent and permanent feature of Australia’s security environment,” he said.
Rudd said Australia’s increased security measures for visitors were being implemented in collaboration with Britain and the United States.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in January singled out Yemen, Somalia and the Sahel, stretching from Eritrea across Africa to Nigeria and Sudan, as vulnerable to militant influence.
The United States has also strengthened airport checks for citizens from Afghanistan, Algeria, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen, enforcing strict pat-down searches and baggage checks.
The US checks also apply to citizens from countries that Washington blames for lending support to militants, including Cuba, Iran, Syria and Sudan.
Pic: Flag of Australia