MAXINE McKEW: A prominent French anti-terror judge says Al Qaeda is preparing for an attack to destabilise the South-East Asian economy with Sydney a possible target. Jean-Louis Bruguiere has told a British newspaper there's credible intelligence suggesting Al Qaeda views an attack on the region as having symbolic importance.
Michael Edwards reports.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: Jean-Louis Bruguiere knows his subject. As France's top anti-terror judge, he's responsible for capturing Carlos the Jackal, foiling dozens of attacks and for predicting terrorists would use aircraft as bombs long before September 11.
Now he's told a British newspaper there's reliable intelligence Al Qaeda has turned its attention towards attacking a South-East Asian financial centre, naming Tokyo, Singapore and Sydney as having high symbolic importance.
Security expert Neil Fergus says Jean-Louis Bruguiere rarely speaks publicly, but when he does it's with good reason.
NEIL FERGUS, INTELLIGENCE EXPERT: If you look at the information which is publicly available that we are aware of, of conspiracies to carry out terrorist campaigns in Sydney through Lashkar-e-Toiba and in Singapore through Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiah. Put the judge's comments, these recent comments, with that and we have to assume he has additional information and it does, of course, increase the possibility that this threat is much more imminent than we might otherwise have thought.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: Judge Bruguiere interrogated terror suspect Willie Brigitte and uncovered key details of a plot to bomb targets in Sydney. He was in Australia earlier this year to question Jack Roche, who was convicted of plotting to bomb Israeli diplomatic targets.
He says there is complacency in the Asian region about attacks by Al Qaeda, which would aim to disrupt local economies. But analyst Chris Richardson says there's an underlying resilience.
CHRIS RICHARDSON, ACCESS ECONOMICS: They're great at scaring people, but they don't scare economies. Economies are bigger and more complex and terror attacks are awful things, but they typically only affect a small amount of people at a given moment. They do have an impact on confidence, but that's always been temporary in recent experience.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: The chilling warnings weren't lost on the Prime Minister.
JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: Well I have said for a long time that this country can't imagine that it's free from the possibility of a terrorist attack.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: A spokesman for the Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, says there's no indication of any new threats to Australia.