No room for complacency in war against terrorists


  • Letters
  • Sunday, 17 Jul 2005

TWO weeks before the London bomb blasts, the British authorities downgraded their terror alert. 

For some unknown reason, they were not even aware of the May 29 warning via the Internet of an imminent al-Qaeda attack on Europe until the Spanish secret service passed on a copy of the Arabic message to MI5 two days too late. 

That was perhaps the fatal mistake: the British authorities were complacent in spite of the G8 summit being held in Gleneagles, Scotland. 

If there is a lesson to be learnt, it is that complacency is as dangerous as an actual threat in this ever-pressing war against global terrorism. 

No nation is immune from terrorism, whether it is Western, Asian or Muslim. Terrorist acts are driven by the ideology of hatred, which can also affect their own kind. Just as many innocent Muslims as Westerners have died in the indiscriminate attacks in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. 

The death toll in Britain is just the latest in the following list of horrors that depict the bizarre killing fields of the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups around the world: 

z March 11, 2004 – 191 people were killed and 1,500 injured in an attack on Madrid trains. 

z Nov 15 and 20, 2003 – Suicide bombers made twin attacks in Istanbul killing 62 people. 

z May 13, 2003 – Suicide bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, killed 34 people. 

z Oct 12, 2002 – JI terrorists bombed two Bali nightclubs killing 202 people, including 88 Australians, and injuring about 1,000 others. 

z Sept 11, 2001 – Suicide bombers used hijacked passenger aircraft to bring down the Twin Towers in New York and partly damaged the Pentagon. Nearly 3,000 people were killed and thousands of others were injured. 

Will Australia, the third partner in the coalition of the willing that invaded Iraq just over two years ago and overthrew the Saddam regime, be the next victim?  

Prime Minister John Howard is well aware of the threat in the aftermath of the London bombings in which seven Australians are among the injured. 

He says he cannot promise that Australia is a safe place.  

“An attack on Australia within Australia is not only possible but probable,” Howard adds in reference to JI spiritual leader Abubakar Baasyir’s previous warning to Australia to “expect anything but peace and forgiveness”.  

JI has also attempted to recruit Muslims in Australia to set up terrorist cells around the country. It has not succeeded only because the Australian Security and Intelligence Office (ASIO) and the Federal Police have always been on alert. 

The number of Muslims in Australia has increased dramatically by 157% since 1986 to 281,578, according to the latest available statistics. 

Almost 50% of them are relatively young, about 24 years of age, compared with 35% of non-Muslim Australians. 

More than a third of the Muslim community are Australian-born with half of them of Lebanese or Turkish ancestry, a further 28% were born in the Middle East or North Africa, and 16% were born in Asia, including Malaysia. 

Nearly half of the Muslims live in Sydney, 33% in Melbourne, 7% in Perth, 5% in Brisbane, 3% in Adelaide and 1% in Darwin. 

Most of them are law-abiding citizens who mind their own business and stay away from politics.  

Yet it is not inconceivable that some of them may come under the watchful eyes of ASIO since the British investigators have discovered that the suicide bombers in London were born in England.  

The London attack has caused the Australian and state governments to review their security measures on the train services in the nation’s capital cities. 

The main concern is the vulnerability of Australia’s biggest rail network in Sydney, which carries more passengers than anywhere else in the country. 

New South Wales Premier Bob Carr is expected to announce next week a five-pronged evacuation strategy in the event of a terrorist attack in Sydney. 

Tough new laws on money laundering will also be introduced soon to prevent terrorists from using cash for their activities or to buy explosives locally. 

Cash payments for assets such as real estate and precious gems worth more than A$20,000 will have to be notified to the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre.  

This is the federal government’s specialist financial intelligence unit, which studies the movements of money into Australia. 

Although there is no intelligence at this stage of any terrorist activity here, Howard points out that what happened in Britain 10 days ago could happen in Australia.  

When launching a “Be Aware” television campaign on Thursday night, he urged the public to be on alert but not alarmed. 

As these measures are all part of the belief that prevention is better than cure, it is hoped that Australia’s readiness for any eventuality in these uncertain times will prevent any act of terrorism from happening in the nation.  

 

o Jeffrey Francis is editorial consultant, Australasia-Pacific Media (e-mail: fran cis2@global.net.au) 


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