Ter­ror threat creeps closer

The Press - - Front Page -

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.

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