Australians have a lot of sympathy for the UK when it suffers a terrorist attack. Many Australians have friends and relatives in the UK and spending time in the UK before or after university is almost a rite of passage. So, the incidents in London and Glasgow were front page news and lead stories in newscasts on Australian television.
Whilst Australia was touched by terrorism in the Bali attacks in 2002 and 2005, the Australian mainland has seen no successful bombings since 1978 when, on February 13th, a bomb exploded outside Sydney’s Hilton Hotel, killing three people. There have been a number of arrests and convictions in Australia on terrorist related matters, however. More than a dozen people were arrested and charged in Australia’s biggest counter-terrorist investigation, Operation Pendennis.
Australians have also had connections with terrorists overseas, the latest example being four people arrested in the Lebanon. In this case the media are reporting that two of the four will be released and two charged with terrorist related offences.
Australia has also been mentioned as a target by senior Al-Qai’da terrorists and Australia has troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Most people involved in counter-terrorism in Australia realize that it is only a matter of time before a successful terrorist attack happens on the mainland. Most pundits would, however, predict that any bombing would occur in Sydney or Melbourne. That is one of the reasons why the arrest of a man in Brisbane, Queensland in connection with the recent terrorist incidents in London was such a surprise to many.
Australian police are currently questioning Gold Coast doctor Mohammed Haneef, 27, following requests and information from the UK. On 3 July the Australian Federal Police (AFP) was granted permission to hold Dr Haneef for a further 48 hours. Meanwhile an officer from the Counter Terrorism Command at New Scotland Yard is en route to Brisbane to assist with enquiries. The AFP is also sending an officer to London to ensure a smooth flow of information and intelligence. A number of addresses in Queensland have been searched and the seized material is currently being analyzed.
Another doctor questioned by police in connection with the incident has been released and no further action is expected in connection with this person.
Meanwhile a possible diplomatic incident is brewing. Doctor Haneef is an Indian national and has requested that his pregnant wife in India be informed of his arrest. However the Indian Consul is alleging that Australian authorities are refusing to provide him with Dr Haneef’s details including his address, passport number and date of birth.
In September, Sydney is hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) leaders’ meeting. APEC consists of 21 countries, including the United States, China and Russia. More than three thousand police will be on duty to protect the leaders and the military will be on standby in case of an incident. Security, already a headache for Australian authorities, will be reviewed in the wake of the Brisbane arrest.
Associate Professor of Counter Terrorism
Australian Graduate School of Policing
The views expresssed here do not necessarily reflect those of RUSI