Current track




Terror threat ‘real’, says ASIO boss

Written by on May 20, 2024

Australia’s top security boss says there has been a decline in the number of people who aspire to travel overseas to support terrorist groups since the height of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but travel bans are a “necessary tool” to deter citizens from joining extremists.

The federal government is looking at extending counter-terrorism laws, due to sunset in September, that make it illegal to travel to certain areas that have been declared as having a significant risk level of terrorist activity.

The powers were introduced in 2014 and have only been used twice — once in 2014 to stop people travelling to parts of Syria, and again in 2018 to prevent people from travelling to Iraq, which led to four Australians being charged.

Currently, no areas have been listed under the laws.

Australian Security Intelligence Organisation director-general Mike Burgess said despite the lowering of the security threat level in Australia, terrorism remained a “real and pervasive” threat to national security.

“If we look at our security environment and what’s happening globally, we continue to keep a close eye on developments in Afghanistan, further in Middle East and Africa, and we could well see the need to have the government call on this in terms of our toolkit to respond to the terrorist threat in the future,” Mr Burgess said.

Mr Burgess said he was aware of “general conversations” about the possibility of designating Gaza and South Lebanon as areas of concern but said intelligence agencies had not been asked for formal advice.

He added it was a “real possibility” that we could see the rise of ISIL and re-establish itself somewhere in the world.

“Having the offence would be useful if that situation was to occur,” he said.

Since 2012, about 230 Australians have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight with or support terrorist groups.

According to Australian Federal Police Acting Assistant Commissioner Stephen Nutt of those 230 people, about 120 were believed to be dead.

Mr Nutt said despite the lowering of the national terrorism threat in 2019 there had been a notable increase in terrorist incidents and “operational activities” in recent weeks.

He said a total of 168 people had been charged with terrorist offences since 2014.

“The AFP remains concerned that individuals who have travelled to a declared area and/or engaged in terrorist activity or supported terrorist groups, can present a threat to Australia both while overseas and in the event they return to Australia,” Mr Nutt said.

“Foreign terrorist fighters may have enhanced any harmful capabilities, skills, expertise and knowledge as well as potential ideology and motivations to facilitate acts of terrorism or related harms in Australia.”

Australian Human Rights Commissioner Lorraine Finlay argued the current regime “cast the net” too widely and risked criminalising Australian’s and visa holders who could be innocent.

She said the legislation acted as a “blunt tool” and argued there were other legal measures in place to deter a person from travelling to join a terrorist organisation overseas.

“The onus of proof is on the accused to establish that the purpose of their travel is legitimate, and the commission has concerns about the limited scope for permissible reasons for travel,” the AHRC submission read.

According to the government, the areas targeted by the regime are “dangerous locations in which listed terrorist organisations are engaging in hostile activities”.

If found guilty, the maximum penalty is life imprisonment, with up to 25 years in jail if a person is convicted of recruiting another person to join an organisation engaging in hostile activities.

England and Denmark are the only countries with similar laws in place.