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Australasian terror: a summer snapshot

NZ Security, Feb/Mar 2017

Flinders Street, Australia’s busiest train station. Courtesy Adam.J.W.C.Flinders Street, Australia’s busiest train station. Courtesy Adam.J.W.C.

 

A flurry of worried reporting hit the media in the wake of the release of the National Security System Handbook by the the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in early November. According to the document, the system had been activated after an unspecified "threat of a domestic terrorist incident", but no details of the threat have been provided.

The annual report of the Inspector-General of Security and Intelligence also confirmed the that the NZSIS responded to a suspected terrorist act in the second half of 2015.

Then, only weeks ago, media reported that Saudi Arabian police had shot dead Taie Bin Salem bin Yaslem Al-Saya'ari on 7th January after they say he planned an attack on the iconic Medina Mosque. Until 2013, Al-Saya'ari had spent five years studying in New Zealand.

According to the Saudi government, Al-Saya'ari was a former engineering scholarship student in New Zealand, and that he had made the suicide bomb used in a 4th July attack outside the mosque, killing four members of Saudi security forces.

In comments to stuff.co.nz, security specialist Paul Buchanan said that the most common "terrorist wannabe" in New Zealand was the "self-radicalised computer jockey" planning lone-wolf attacks via the Internet. He stated that although we are far less at risk of major terrorist attacks than Europe, the US and Australia, our involvement in the war against ISIL put us at risk.

Despite these recent brushes with terror, New Zealand’s terror threat level remains ‘LOW’.

Meanwhile, across the Tasman – and in an unrelated incident – six men and a woman were detained in raids on 23 December on suspicion of “preparing or planning a terrorist attack”. According to police, the plot involved the use of improvised explosive devices on high-profile targets around Melbourne, such as St Paul's Cathedral, Federation Square and Flinders Street station.

The woman and two men were later released. Three other men, all in their twenties, did not enter pleas and are due to appear in court in April. Another man remains in custody.

 

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At a press conference, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull commented that it was “one of the most substantial terrorist plots that has been disrupted over the last several years,” and that it was an “Islamist terrorist plot inspired by Daesh or ISIL.”

“Since the terrorism threat level was elevated to probable in September 2014, Australia has experienced four terrorist attacks and 12 successful major disruption operations,” he said. “Fifty-seven people have been charged as a result of 25 counterterrorism operations around the country.”

According to Minister for Justice Michael Keenan, the disruption is amongst the most serious “in terms of its intent, and in terms of the capability of the people who have been disrupted.” It would have been a horrendous attack, he continued, “an attack that may have caused very significant casualties.”

Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, Andrew Colvin stated that the group “had moved very quickly from an intention to a capability, and developed capability, including quite progressed plans.”

Those detained are said to be Australian-born and of Lebanese background, and another born in Egypt. It is believed they were self-radicalised, inspired by Daesh or ISIL. “There is no question in our mind, “stated the AFP Commissioner, “that they were inspired by events overseas, inspired by ISIL, inspired by material that has been placed online.”

Australia's National Terrorism Threat Level remains PROBABLE, meaning that credible intelligence, assessed by security agencies, indicates that individuals or groups continue to possess the intent and capability to conduct a terrorist attack in Australia.

 

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