Terrorism in Australia

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Australia has known acts of modern terrorism since the 1960s, while the federal parliament, since the 1970s, has enacted legislation seeking to specifically target terrorism. Terrorism is defined as "an action or threat of action where the action causes certain defined forms of harm or interference and the action is done or the threat is made with the intention of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause".[1] In a government publication, transnational terrorism in particular is identified as a threat to Australia, driven by radical Islam.[2]

Terrorist attacks conducted in Australia before 2001[edit]

A number of terrorists attacks occurred in Australia before 2001.[3] These include:

  • 1915 shooting at Broken Hill - the killings were politically and religiously inspired;
  • 1972 bombing of the Yugoslav General Trade Agency in Sydney;
  • 1978 bombing of the Sydney Hilton hotel during a Commonwealth Heads of Government Regional Meeting;
  • 1980 assassination of the Turkish Consul-General in Sydney;
  • 1982 bombing of the Israeli Consulate and the Hakoah Club in Sydney;
  • 1986 bombing of the Russell Street Police Station in Melbourne; and
  • 1986 bombing at the Turkish Consulate in Melbourne.

Terrorist attacks against Australians[edit]

The following actual attacks either happened in Australian territory, were targeted against Australia, or involved a substantial number of Australian casualties.

Sydney Hilton bombing[edit]

Main article: Sydney Hilton bombing

On 13 February 1978, a bomb exploded outside the Hilton Hotel in Sydney, which was hosting the first Commonwealth Heads of Government Regional Meeting. Two garbage collectors and a police officer were killed and eleven others were injured. As a result of the bombing, ASIO's powers and budget were greatly expanded. It was also a motivation for the formation of the Australian Federal Police.

Sydney Turkish Consul General assassination[edit]

On 17 December 1980, Sydney Turkish Consul General Şarık Arıyak and his security attaché Engin Sever were assassinated by two people on motorcycles wielding firearms in Sydney. The Justice Commandos for the Armenian Genocide claimed responsibility but the culprits were never identified and no charges were laid. The Consul General was gunned down despite having taken precautions in the form of not travelling in the official consulate Mercedes Benz vehicle and instead being chauffeured in the trailing security attaché's car.

Turkish consulate bombing[edit]

On 23 November 1986, a car bomb exploded in a carpark beneath the Turkish Consulate in South Yarra, Victoria, killing the bomber who failed to correctly set up the explosive device. Levon Demirian, a Sydney resident with links to the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, was charged over the attack and served 10 years.[4]

2002 and 2005 Bali bombings[edit]

The first bombing occurred on 12 October 2002 in the tourist district of Kuta on the Indonesian island of Bali. The attack was the deadliest act of terrorism in the history of Indonesia or Australia, killing 202 people, of whom the largest portion (88) were Australians. A further 240 people were injured. The 2005 Bali Bombing resulted in 20 deaths, with 4 being Australians.

2014 Sydney hostage crisis[edit]

On 15 December 2014, a self-proclaimed Muslim sheikh, Man Haron Monis, took 17 people hostage inside a chocolate cafe in Sydney. He forced hostages to hold up a jihadist black flag against a window of the cafe. On the early hours of 16 December, police breached the cafe and fatally shot Monis following the escape of several hostages. Two hostages also died, while another four people, including a police officer, were injured in the incident.

Other attacks[edit]

In 1990, two Australians were shot dead by the IRA in Roermond. The IRA later claimed it believed the men were off-duty British Army soldiers.[5]

The 11 September attacks in 2001 killed 11 Australians.

The Australian embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia was subjected to a car bomb attack in September 2004. Nine Indonesian nationals who worked at or were passing by the embassy were killed.


Prior to the 1960s, there had not been any act in Australia that could accurately be deemed "terrorism" in the modern political and strategic sense of the word. Politically motivated violent incidents were rare, usually isolated, and for the most part driven by issues arising from political legislation, greed, or individuals being singled out, such as the attempted assassination of Australian Labor Party Leader Arthur Calwell in 1965 over his Vietnam War stance. Likewise the 1968 attack on the US Consulate in Melbourne was also regarded to be an isolated incident protesting the US involvement in Vietnam. The two exceptions to this state of affairs would be the assassination attempt on the Duke of Edinburgh in 1868 by an Irish Nationalist named O'Farrell, who was later executed for his crime, and an attack in Broken Hill in 1915 by Afghan supporters of the Sultan of Turkey.

Although it had known sporadic acts through its history, and examples of modern terrorism for almost a decade, Australia did not introduce terrorism specific laws into Parliament until the late 1970s. In 1977, after a three year inquiry into Australia's intelligence services, Justice Robert Hope delivered his Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security (RCIS). The RCIS recommended amongst other things that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) areas of investigation be widened to include terrorism. A further Protective Security Review by Justice Hope in 1978 following the Sydney Hilton bombing designated ASIO as the government agency responsible for producing national threat assessments in the field of terrorism and politically motivated violence.

Since then, successive governments have reviewed and altered the shape of both legislation and the agencies that enforce it to cope with the changing face, threat and scope of terrorism. It was not until after the attacks of 11 September 2001 however, that Australian policy began to change to reflect a growing threat against Australia and Australians specifically. Until then the view held from the 1960s had been that terrorist actions in Australia were considered as a problem imported from conflicts overseas and concerned with foreign targets on Australian soil.

As of March 2008, the latest legislation to be brought into effect is the Anti-Terrorism Act (No. 2) 2005.[6]


In September 2007 there were 19 organisations designated and banned, by a court or a government department, for active involvement in terrorism. All but one of those organisations are Islamic. Identification of terrorist organisations may result from a prosecution for a terrorist offence, or from a listing determined by the Attorney-General of Australia.[7]

Militant Islamist incidents and terror plots[edit]

Faheem Khalid[edit]

Main article: Faheem Khalid Lodhi

Faheem Khalid Lodhi is an Australian architect accused of an October 2003 plot to bomb the national electricity grid or Sydney defence sites in the cause of violent jihad. He was convicted by a New South Wales Supreme Court jury in June 2006 on terrorism-related offences,[8] namely:

  • Preparation for terrorist attack, by seeking information for the purpose of constructing explosive devices
  • Seeking information and collecting maps of the Sydney electricity supply system and possessing 38 aerial photos of military installations in preparation for terrorist attacks
  • Possessing terrorist manuals detailing how to manufacture poisons, detonators, explosives and incendiary devices

He was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 15 years. His intended targets were the national electricity supply system, the Victoria Barracks, HMAS Penguin naval base, and Holsworthy Barracks. Justice Anthony Whealy commented at sentencing that Lodhi had "the intent of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause, namely violent jihad" to "instill terror into members of the public so that they could never again feel free from the threat of bombing in Australia."[9]

Mohammed Abderrahman[edit]

Main article: Willie Brigitte

Mohammed Abderrahman aka Willie Brigitte, is a French Islamist al-Qaeda recruit who resided with Faheem Lodhi while in Australia in 2003, during which time he married a former Australian Army signaller.[10] He was arrested by Australian immigration compliance officials in Sydney six weeks after the marriage[11] and deported to France.

His wife said before a French investigating judge that at times he had 'bombarded' her with questions on the subject of her military knowledge and career.[11] She reports that she rebuffed such questioning or responded minimally 'so that he would leave [her] in peace' and that she burned three of her notebooks originating from the period of her military service in East Timor as a precaution. She reported his anger about her taking such precautions, his presumption to forbid her from further similar actions, and she exactly confirmed his repeated statement of the opinion that "Allah and all Muslims need this information" in order to obtain information of a military character from her.[11]

In December 2006, it was reported that a basis for French terrorism-related charges laid against him was the allegation that he aided the murderers of Ahmad Shah Masood by supplying them with false identity documents.[12]

He is presently in custody as a terrorism suspect in France where prosecutors have called for him to be sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment for his admitted involvement in a terrorist organisation.[13]

Joseph T. Thomas[edit]

Main article: Joseph T. Thomas

On 28 August 2006, following the quashing of his terrorism convictions, Joseph T. Thomas (also dubbed "Jihad Jack") was the first person to be issued with a control order under the Australian Anti-Terrorism Act 2005 after written consent was provided by the Australian Attorney-General Philip Ruddock.[14][15] In December 2007 a control order was issued against David Hicks to ensure that he was monitored upon his release.[16]

Sydney Five[edit]

Khaled Cheikho, Moustafa Cheikho, Mohamed Ali Elomar, Abdul Rakib Hasan and Mohammed Omar Jamal were found guilty of conspiring to commit a terrorist act or acts.[17] They were jailed on 15 February 2010 for terms ranging from 23 to 28 years.[18]

Benbrika Group in Melbourne[edit]

Main article: Abdul Nacer Benbrika

In September 2008, of an original nine defendants, five men including the Muslim cleric, Abdul Nacer Benbrika were convicted of planning a terrorist attack. During the trial, the jury heard evidence of plans to bomb the 2005 AFL Grand Final, 2006 Australian Grand Prix and the Crown Casino, as well as a plot to assassinate then Prime Minister John Howard.


Holsworthy Barracks terror plot[edit]

On 4 August 2009, four men in Melbourne have been charged over the Holsworthy Barracks terror plot, an alleged plan to storm the barracks with automatic weapons; and shoot army personnel or others until they were killed or captured.[19][20] The men are allegedly connected with the Somali-based terrorist group al-Shabaab.[21] Prime Minister Kevin Rudd subsequently announced a federal government review of security at all military bases.[22]

September 2014 AFP raids[edit]

Sydney and Brisbane[edit]

In the early hours of 18 September 2014, large teams of Australian Federal Police and other security agencies conducted search operations in both Sydney and Brisbane. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has alluded to an alleged plot aimed at conducting a random act of terrorism as the reason for the police action.[23] This action is described as the largest in Australian history to date. One man arrested, Omarjan Azari, 22, from Guildford, allegedly conspired to commit a "horrifying" terrorist act with a man believed to be the most senior Australian Islamic State leader.[24]


On 30 September there were more raids in Melbourne. The AFP executed seven search warrants in Broadmeadows, Flemington, Kealba, Meadow Heights and Seabrook. Over 100 officers from Federal and State police forces took part.[25] A man from Seabrook will be charged with "intentionally making funds available to a terrorist organisation knowing that organisation was a terrorist organisation," AFP Assistant Commissioner Gaughan said. The man is alleged to have provided money to a United States citizen who was fighting in Syria.[25]

Endeavour Hills incident[edit]

On 23 September 2014 an 18-year-old man, Numan Haider, was shot and killed by police outside Endeavour Hills police station. Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius said Haider had been asked to come to the police station to discuss behaviour "which had been causing some concern". When the man arrived outside the station, he stabbed the two officers as they went to meet him. The two stabbed officers, one from Victoria Police and one from the Australian Federal Police, were working together as part of a joint operation on counter-terrorism between the AFP and Victoria Police.[26] Haider was found to be carrying two knives and an Islamic State flag.[27]

Peter James Knight[edit]

Main article: Peter James Knight

On 16 July 2001, Peter James Knight, described as an "obsessive anti-abortionist" who lived alone in a makeshift camp in rural New South Wales, attacked the East Melbourne Family Planning clinic, a privately run clinic providing abortions, carrying a rifle, and large quantities of kerosene and lighters. He shot and killed a security guard at the clinic before his capture and arrest. He was charged and convicted of murder, and was sentenced to life imprisonment with a non-parole period of 23 years.[28]

While Knight was not charged with any specific terrorism offences, Australian terrorism academic Clive Williams listed the attack amongst incidents of politically motivated violence in Australia.[29]

Future threats[edit]

In January 2008, head of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Nanyang Technological University, Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, said that a "New crop of home-grown jihadis, groomed to step up and replace the leaders of Australian terror cells who have been arrested or jailed, is almost "mature" enough to launch an operation".

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) reported it had 76 new counter-terrorism cases to investigate in the 2006-7 financial year, and they finalised another 83 cases. As of 30 June 2006, the AFP had 83 cases being actively examined by its counter-terrorism unit. The Mercury newspaper reported that "intelligence sources" are aware of the new threats, but they deny there is any evidence that the groups may be close to planning an attack inside Australia.

In early 2008, AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty and NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said they are investigating new terrorist threats, particularly in NSW.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Commonwealth of Australia (15 July 2004). "Transnational Terrorism: The Threat to Australia" (PDF). 1.0. Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. ISBN 1-920959-04-1. Retrieved 12 April 2008. 
  2. ^ Transnational Terrorism: The Threat to Australia
  3. ^ The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. "Counter Terrorism White Paper: Securing Australia - Protecting our Community". Dpmc.gov.au. Retrieved 22 June 2013. 
  4. ^ Greek Bulgarian armenian Front MIPT
  5. ^ "Reward Offer Bringing in Tips in IRA Killing of Australians". Associated Press News Archive. 29 May 1990. Retrieved 26 July 2012. 
  6. ^ Commonwealth of Australia (16 February 2005). "Anti-Terrorism Act (no. 2) 2005, No. 144, 2005" (PDF). Retrieved 12 April 2008. 
  7. ^ "Australian National Security - Listing of Terrorist Organisations". What Governments are Doing. Australian Government (Attorney-General's Department). 27 September 2007. Retrieved 11 March 2008. ...two ways for an organisation to be identified as a 'terrorist organisation' ... prosecution for a terrorist offence [or] the Attorney-General must be satisfied on reasonable grounds... 
  8. ^ Lodhi guilty on terror charges Lodhi 'deserves' 20 years Lodhi jailed for 20 years over terror plot
  9. ^ Sydney terrorism suspect jailed for 20 years ABC 23 August 2006
  10. ^ Brigitte terrorism trial nears ABC News
  11. ^ a b c Testimony: Melanie Brown Australian Broadcasting Corporation
  12. ^ Brigitte claimed to be behind Masood assassination The World Today
  13. ^ Brigitte 'pressured' over terrorism plot confession ABC News
  14. ^ Michael Walton, A consolidation of the changes to the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) & Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 (Cth) proposed in the Anti-Terrorism Bill 2005 (Cth), NSW Council for Civil Liberties, 16 October 2005
  15. ^ Jihad Jack wife's terror link Sydney Morning Herald 29 August 2006
  16. ^ Aussie Taliban Goes Free Time Magazine 29 December 2007
  17. ^ http://news.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=664371
  18. ^ "Five Australians jailed for jihad plot". Reuters. 15 February 2010. Retrieved 15 February 2010. 
  19. ^ Cameron Stewart and Milanda Rout, 5 August 2009. "Somali extremists on a 'fatwa order' from God". The Australian, Retrieved on 5 August 2009
  20. ^ Melissa Iaria, 4 August 2009. "Terror suspects 'sought holy approval'". News.com.au, Retrieved on 4 August 2009
  21. ^ Janet Fife-Yeomans and Carly Crawford, 5 August 2009. "Terror suspects 'sought holy approval'". NEWS.COM.AU. Retrieved on 5 August 2009
  22. ^ 5 August 2009. "Govt orders review of security at military bases". News.com.au, Retrieved on 5 August 2009
  23. ^ http://www.smh.com.au/national/live-antiterrorism-raids-across-sydney-and-brisbane-20140918-3fzkq.html?google_editors_picks=true
  24. ^ http://www.smh.com.au/national/live-antiterrorism-raids-across-sydney-and-brisbane-20140918-3fzkq.html
  25. ^ a b Anti-terror raids Melbourne: Man accused of sending funds to Syria fighter. ABC (Australia), 30 September 2014. Retrieved 30 September 2014
  26. ^ http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/terror-suspect-shot-dead-after-two-police-officers-stabbed-in-endeavour-hills-20140924-10l5d4.html#ixzz3EBBFXgEi
  27. ^ Silvester, John. "Melbourne terror shooting: Numan Haider 'planned to behead Victoria Police officers, drape bodies in IS flag'". smh.com.au (24 September 2014). Retrieved 24 September 2014. 
  28. ^ Anti-abortion killer jailed for life
  29. ^ Williams, Clive (9 September 2006). "No, minister we are not free of terror". The Canberra Times. 
  30. ^ New crop of Jihadis is "set to step up" The Mercury 28 January 2008