Terror threat creeps closer
News that Australian police have foiled a plot to bomb an aeroplane brings the threat of a major terrorist attack very close to home. Arrests were made in Sydney at the weekend. Police allege a group of men there were planning to use an improvised device to target the aviation industry.
In aviation terms, Sydney is immediately adjacent to our own skies. Outside of our own national airspace, it is one of the obvious next ports of call. Had the plot succeeded, it is likely that New Zealanders would have been among the victims.
Australia has suffered more than New Zealand from the 21st-century’s terror scourge.
Two innocent people and lone-wolf attacker Man Haron Monis died in the 17-hour Lindt Cafe siege in Sydney in December 2014.
Among other politically motivated attacks, a radicalised Melbourne teen, Numan Haider, was shot dead after he stabbed two police officers in the same year.
Farhad Khalil Mohammad Jabar, just 15 years old, killed a civilian employee outside the New South Wales police headquarters in 2015. Ihsas Khan, 22, stabbed and wounded a man walking his dog in southwest Sydney last year.
About a dozen other planned attacks have been foiled across the Tasman in the past three years. Twenty-three people in Australia have been convicted of terrorism offences in the past 12 months, according to the Australian National Security agency.
Most threats have come from a relatively small number of people, working alone or in small groups, inspired by the violent ideology of radical Islamist terrorist organisations such as Isis and al Qaeda.
New Zealand, so far, has been spared the tragedy of a major terrorist incident. But we should not be complacent.
Australia is more staunchly a US ally than New Zealand, but our more independently minded foreign policy does not mean we will not be seen as the enemy by extremists. The Iraqi troops who this month claimed victory over Isis in the battle for Mosul were trained in part by a joint New Zealand-Australian contingent at Camp Taji, just outside Baghdad.
Australia’s counter-terrorism efforts seem to have met with a large measure of success, up to this point. However, the threat level is expected to remain high for the foreseeable future.
The director-general of the ASIO, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Duncan Lewis, warned recently that the defeat of Isis on the battlefield, and the collapse of its so-called caliphate, did not mean that the threat levels in our part of the world would diminish.
‘‘This is not the end,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s not the beginning of the end. It’s more like the end of the beginning. We don’t see this finishing any time soon.’’
New Zealanders crossing the Tasman this week will experience increased screening and possibly delays. That is understandable. In the longer term, we might also have to get used to the idea that more government surveillance – for instance, of electronic communications – will be useful in thwarting future attacks.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says his country’s anti-terrorism defences are being continually strengthened. It can only be hoped that authorities here are learning lessons from the Australian experience which will prevent New Zealand becoming a soft target for people who would plot to do harm.