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Terror attack threat to Australia prompts immediate anti terror law enactment

Preemptive and longer detention time needed to halt iminent terror threat
November 2, 2005

John Howard / File
Evidence ... the PM said urgent action was needed / File

National terror threat revealed
By Paul Colgan and AAP

INTELLIGENCE agencies have received specific information about a terrorist threat to Australia which today prompted the Government to rush through its anti-terror laws to help avert a possible attack.

Prime Minister John Howard said intelligence agencies had received specific information about a terrorist threat and was urging Parliament to enact the laws within 36 hours.

"We have seen material," Mr Howard said. "It is a cause of concern."

The Prime Minister would not give details on the nature of the threat, citing security reasons.

"The Government is acting against the background of the assessment of intelligence agencies that a terrorist attack in Australia is feasible and could well occur," he said, referring to an ASIO report released yesterday.

"In ASIO's recently released annual report a warning is contained that specifically cites the threat of home-grown terrorism. ASIO also warned that attacks without warning are feasible," Mr Howard said.

The amendment will add further grounds for listing militant organisations and "will clarify that it is not necessary for the prosecution to identify a specific terrorist act."

National security editor of The Australian, Patrick Walters, said Mr Howard's statement pointed to "an imminent threat to Australians".

"We know that ASIO and the AFP have been monitoring a number of people considered high security risks for a long period of time," Walters said. "But clearly this takes things to a new level."

The requirement for urgent laws, Walters said, "indicates (the Government) has far more precise intelligence relating to a group or an individual wanting to carry out a terrorist attack".

Part of the new anti-terror laws will be introduced to Parliament today and the Senate is to be recalled.

Mr Howard said he had briefed Opposition Leader Kim Beazley and Opposition homeland security spokesman Arch Bevis.

"After question time today, the Attorney-General will introduce into the House an urgent amendment to the existing counter terrorism legislation," Mr Howard said.

"We will seek passage of that amendment through all stages this evening.

"The President of the Senate will recall the Senate to meet tomorrow afternoon at 2pm and it's the Government's wish that this amendment be passed into law as soon as possible."

Mr Howard said he had not yet received any information that would require a change in the general terror threat level for Australia.

"If we received advice to that effect, which we have not received, we would respond appropriately to that advice," he said.

Mr Howard said he could not comment further about the information he received and would not say whether the intelligence advice had come from Australian or other authorities.

"We have been given advice that if this amendment is enacted as soon as possible the capacity of the authorities to respond will be strengthened.

"And I am satisfied on what I have been told, and the Government and the national security ministers in Cabinet are satisfied, that that is the case but I do not intend and cannot and will not go into any of the operational details."


Australia receives threat of terror attack


CANBERRA, Australia -- Australian authorities have received specific intelligence that terrorists are planning an attack on the country, Prime Minister John Howard said Wednesday.

Speaking in a nationally televised press conference in Canberra, Howard refused to give any details of the threat, which he said authorities received this week.

But he said he would introduce a minor amendment to counterterrorism laws in the House of Representatives on Wednesday afternoon and the Senate would be recalled Thursday to pass it into law.

"The reason for this amendment is that the government has received specific intelligence and police information this week which gives cause for serious concern about a potential terrorist threat," Howard said. "We have been given advice that if this amendment is enacted as soon as possible, the capacity of the authorities to respond will be strengthened."

Australia is a staunch U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism and has sent troops to both Iraq and Afghanistan. The government has denied its support of U.S. foreign policy has increased the risk of attacks, although the terrorist network al-Qaida has repeatedly named Australia as a target.

The amendment would substitute the word "the" with "a" before the phrase "terrorist act" and is part of a larger package of reforms under negotiation with the state governments.

Howard later released a statement explaining that the amendment meant prosecutors would not have to identify a specific terrorist act when prosecuting someone for planning an attack.

"It will be sufficient for the prosecution to prove that the particular conduct was related to 'a' terrorist act," Howard said.

His announcement came a day after the nation's top spy agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, warned in its annual general report to Parliament of a threat of homegrown terrorists.

Howard said the law was being changed against the backdrop of the spy agency's assessment that attacks without warning in Australia were feasible.

There has never been a major terror attack on Australian soil, but bombings have repeatedly hit the country's diplomatic outposts and its citizens abroad - most notably in Indonesia, where Canberra's embassy in Jakarta was hit by a 2004 suicide minivan bomb and suicide bombings in the tourist island of Bali killed dozens of Australians in 2002 and October of this year.

Howard's government is trying to push new anti-terror laws through Parliament before Christmas.

The controversial legislation would enable authorities to hold terror suspects without charge for two weeks and monitor them with electronic tracking devices for up to a year.

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