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ASIO boss warns terrorist attack in Australia is ‘probable’ within next 12 months

ASIO Director-General Mike Burgess has warned that a terrorist attack in Australia remains likely in the next 12 months in a blunt assessment of the country’s security threat. Mr. Burgess delivered the warning before a parliamentary inquiry into extremism in Australia, examining the country’s preparedness against religious and ideologically motivated extremism.

He told the hearing that religiously motivated extremists, as well as the “evolving” threat posed by extremists driven by nationalist and racist views, meant the terrorist threat level in Australia remained “probable”.

“We anticipate a terrorist attack in this country in the next 12 months, and it could come from either ideology,” he told the hearing. “For me, it doesn’t matter because they are both capable of conducting acts of violence, and that’s where we focus.”

The parliamentary inquiry has been established to examine all forms of extremism in Australia, following a push from Labor frontbencher Kristina Keneally to investigate the rising threat of far-right extremism. Mr. Burgess told the hearing that while Sunni-based violent extremists remained the security agency’s “major” concern, the growth in nationalist and racist violent extremism remained a “grave concern,” showing no signs of diminishing.

He also stressed that young Australians were vulnerable to nationalist radicalization.

“Young Australians are being ensnared in racist, supremacist, and misogynist ideologies in a deeply concerning way,” he told the hearing. “The average age of our investigated subjects is 25.”

“More often than not, they are young – well educated – articulate and middle class and not easily identified.”

He added that nationalist and racist ideologies continued to resonate with portions of the Australian population.

“It is the white supremacist – racist – a narrative that does resonate with some Australians,” he said. “Not all, but there is a number which it does, which is of concern.”

The ideological-extremism term adopted by ASIO is typically associated with far-right extremist groups in Australia and worldwide.

Mr. Burgess repeated his assessment that these racist supremacist groups had risen from one-third of the agency’s caseload to 40 percent. “ASIO anticipates the threat from this form of violent extremism will not diminish anytime soon,” he told the hearing.

“The face of this threat is evolving, which poses further challenges for security agencies.”

Mr. Burgess said this reflected an international trend and the security agency’s decision to dedicate more resources to the threat.

He added investigations into this extremism had occurred across Australia, describing it as “more widely dispersed”, including in regional and rural areas.

“However, putting this threat in context is important,” he added.

“The National Socialist is not Isil – the Grampians is not a caliphate.”

The statement references an event in January, which saw a group of men making Nazi salutes and shouting “white power” descend on the Grampians National Park in Victoria.

In March, Australia listed the UK-based neo-Nazi group Sonnenkrieg Division on its list of banned terrorist organizations, marking the first right-wing terror organization banned in Australia.

Before this, Australia had been the only Five Eyes country that had not proscribed a far-right group.

Mr. Burgess said that while listing extremist organizations sends a “strong message” about “abhorrent behaviors and beliefs”, it’s not the only answer to stamping out violent attacks.

“Listing an entity will not stop anyone from committing a violent attack,” he told the hearing.

“Conversely, the absence of a listing does not prevent ASIO from investigating the threat.” One of the terms of reference of inquiry is to determine whether Australia’s listing laws are fit for addressing current and emerging terrorist threats.

Another is whether changes are needed to reform Australia’s Counter-Terrorism Strategy to prevent radicalization. Senator Keneally questioned Mr. Burgess about whether other far-right groups overseas threatened Australians by inspiring extremist views.

Molly Aronson

I'm an award-winning blogger who enjoys all things creative but is especially passionate about lifestyle design. I blog over at mehlogy.com I love that I get to share my passion for healthy living, fashion, fitness, and travel with readers from all over the world.

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