ASIO* Director-General David Irvine last night told the ABC's 7:30 program that he is considering raising the terrorist threat level in Australia from Medium to High:
I would say that, at the moment, it is at a very elevated level of medium and I'm certainly contemplating very seriously the notion of lifting it higher, because of the numbers of people that we are now having to be concerned about in Australia, because of the influence of Syria and Iraq on young Australians, both in terms of going to those places to fight but also in terms of what they are doing here in Australia with a potential intent to attack.
Back in March, the Lowy Institute's Anthony Bubalo tackled the subject of foreign fighters in the Middle East, and the threat they pose on return to Australia. He argued that 'In coming years Australia will face a more complex and serious terrorist threat than it did after 9/11', but that it would be wrong to focus solely on fighters returning to Australia:
...the breakdown of state control in a number of Middle East countries is opening new spaces in which jihadists can train and operate. In fact the situation today is considerably worse than it was before 9/11. In the 1990s jihadists found sanctuary in Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan, Yemen, Sudan and Somalia. Today all of those are still on the list of jihadists’ safe (or semi-safe) havens, which now also includes Sinai in Egypt, Libya, parts of Iraq and Lebanon, and of course Syria.
For Australia the concern is not just about Australian returnees, however. Indonesians have also travelled to Syria. At least one has been killed there. Given the success that the Indonesian authorities have had in tackling the terrorist threat over many years, it is critical that the conflict in Syria does not allow jihadist groups in Indonesia to redevelop their lethal capabilities and linkages once again. This is a situation that will require close attention and cooperation with the Indonesian government, perhaps as much as any focus on Australians returning home.
* A corporate member of the Lowy Institute.