Terrorism in Australia

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Terrorism in Australia

Notable attacks
Notable plots



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 2004 Australian government publication, transnational terrorism in particular is identified as a threat to Australia, driven by radical Islam.[2]

Terrorist attacks in Australia[edit]

A number of terrorists attacks have occurred in Australia.[3]

Broken Hill shooting (1915)[edit]

The Battle of Broken Hill was a fatal incident which took place near Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia on 1 January 1915. Two men shot dead four people and wounded seven more, before being killed by police and military officers. Though politically and religiously motivated, the men were not members of any sanctioned armed force and the attacks were criminal. The two men were later identified as being Moslems from the British colony of India, modern day Pakistan (some sources incorrectly identify them as Turkish).[4]

Ustaše attacks (1970s)[edit]

An Croatian Ustaše group was active in Australia and was responsible for a number of terror acts in Australia occurring in the 1970s.[5][6]

Yugoslav travel agency bombing (1972)[edit]

The Sydney Yugoslav General Trade and Tourist Agency bombing occurred in Haymarket, Sydney on 16 September 1972; the attack injured sixteen people.[7] The perpetrators of the attack were believed to be Croatian separatists.[8]

Sydney Hilton bombing (1978)[edit]

The Sydney Hilton Hotel bombing occurred 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.[9]

Sydney Turkish Consul General assassination (1980)[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.[10]

Jack Van Tongeran and the ANM (1980s, 2004)[edit]

Throughout the 1980s, West Australian Neo-Nazi group "The Australian Nationalist Movement", led by Jack van Tongeren, engaged in a series of bombings of Asian restaurants and businesses, political violence, murder of a suspected informant and other acts targeted at intimidating the Asian population. Van Tongeren was eventually imprisoned for a long period of time until his release in the early-mid 2000s, where he resumed his activities until his re-arrest as part of Operation Atlantic in 2004, prompting a judge to order him to leave the state.[11]

Israeli consulate and Hakoah Club bombing (1982)[edit]

The bombing of the Israeli Consulate and Hakoah Club in Sydney occurred on 23 December 1982. The two bombings occurred on the same day within five hours of each other. The initial case led to a single arrest though charges were later dropped. In 2011, the NSW police and Australian federal police reopened the case citing new leads.[12][13][14][15]

Melbourne police station bombing (1986)[edit]

On the 27 March 1986, a bombing occurred at the Russell Street Police Station in Melbourne. The blast seriously injured 21-year-old Constable Angela Taylor, who died on 20 April.[16]

Turkish consulate bombing (1986)[edit]

The Melbourne Turkish consulate bombing occurred 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.[17]

Perth French Consulate bombing (1995)[edit]

In 1995, terrorists firebombed the French Consulate in Perth.[18]

Abortion clinic attack (2001)[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.[19] 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.[20]

Endeavour Hills stabbings (2014)[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.[21] Haider was found to be carrying two knives and an Islamic State flag.[22]

Sydney hostage crisis (2014)[edit]

On 15 December 2014, a self-proclaimed Muslim sheikh, Man Haron Monis, took 17 people hostage inside a chocolate café in Sydney. He forced hostages to hold up a jihadist black flag against a window of the café. On the early hours of 16 December, police breached the café 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.[23][24]

The designation of the 2014 Sydney hostage crisis, also known as the Sydney Martin Place siege, has been subject to debate among terrorism experts and news commentators. Initially, during the early stages of the incident, the Australian government and NSW authorities did not label the event as a terrorist attack,[25][26] however, as the siege continued, NSW police authorised the engagement of the state's counterterrorism task force, treating the incident as an act of terrorism.[27] Commentators have debated whether the perpetrator of the attack, Man Haron Monis, was in fact a terrorist and whether his actions can be classified as an act of terrorism. One terrorism expert described Monis' actions as those of a "lone wolf terrorist ... driven by a desire for attention and to be in the spotlight."[28][29] Another wrote in an opinion column that the attack "was very different from first-generation or second-generation terrorist attacks—but it was terrorism, and terrorism of a brutal and more unpredictable sort."[30] Scott Stewart supervisor of the analysis of terrorism and security issues for Statfor said that this hostage-incident exhibits many of the elements associated with grassroots terrorism.[31] By contrast, criminologist Mark Lauchs stated that the event "was not about religion and neither was it a terrorist attack."[28] Media outlets have also provided conflicting designations for Monis; John Lehmann, editor of The Daily Telegraph, wrote how Monis filled the criteria of an Islamic State terrorist,[32] while a columnist for The Guardian wrote how the designation of a terrorist is misplaced and would only serve the interests of ISIL.[33] On 15 January 2015, Australia's Treasurer Joe Hockey declared the siege in Sydney's Martin Place as a terrorist incident for insurance purposes.[34]

The difference between terrorism and terrorising acts was noted in one analysis as "enormously important"—in Monis's case, terrorism "was clearly an element, but he was coming to the end of his rope with a variety of legal processes; there was clearly some mental instability."[35] One argument was that the gunman's lack of ties to any movement did not preclude his being a terrorist as it is "an inclusive club".[36]

Nick O'Brien, Associate Professor Counter Terrorism at Charles Sturt University has said Islamic State's magazine claim that the Sydney siege gunman is a righteous jihadist should not be lightly dismissed.[37] Dr David Martin Jones, Senior Lecturer at the School of Government, University of Tasmania has said not to underestimate the politically destabilising intent of Monis' lone-actor violence, as it is a considered-tactic and a strategic-goal of ISIL.[38]

Notable terror plots[edit]

Bob Hawke assassination plot[edit]

In 1975, the Palestinian Black September terrorist group and the Australian branch of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist group plotted to assassinate Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke, then Labour Party president, along with a number of notable journalists seen as being pro-Israel. A Black September member visited Australia under the guise of a journalist and was provided with materials from Australian PFLP members and returned to Israel; the Black September member who intended to carry out the attack was killed by Israeli forces before he could return to Australia.[39]

Faheem Khalid Lodhi[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,[40] 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

In his judgement, Justice Anthony Whealy illustrated that that Lodhi’s behaviour breached the rules under the Anti Terrorism Act 2004 (Cth),[41] Crimes Act 1914 (Cth), the Criminal Code and the Crimes (Internationally Protected Persons) Act 1976 (Cth) [42]

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."[43]

Accordingly, Whealy said the sentence to be imposed “must be a substantial one to reflect the important principles of deterrence and denunciation. In relation to count 2 the appropriate sentence, in my view, is one of imprisonment for a term of 20 years. The sentence is to commence on 22 April 2004 and to expire on 21 April 2024.” [42]

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.[44] They were jailed on 15 February 2010 for terms ranging from 23 to 28 years.[45]

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.[1]

Holsworthy Barracks terror plot[edit]

On 4 August 2009, four men in Melbourne were charged over the Holsworthy Barracks terror plot, an alleged plan to storm the Holsworthy Barracks in Sydney with automatic weapons; and shoot army personnel or others until they were killed or captured.[46][47] The men are allegedly connected with the Somali-based terrorist group al-Shabaab.[48] Prime Minister Kevin Rudd subsequently announced a federal government review of security at all military bases.[49]

In December 2011 Justice Betty King sentenced three of the men to 18 years in prison with minimum terms of 13 1/2. She said that they were all "unrepentant radical Muslims and would remain a threat to the public while they held extremist views".[50]

Other terrorist incidents[edit]

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.[51] He was arrested by Australian immigration compliance officials in Sydney six weeks after the marriage[52] 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.[52] 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.[52]

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.[53]

In early 2007 he was in custody as a terrorism suspect in France where prosecutors called for him to be sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment for his admitted involvement in a terrorist organisation.[54]

On 15 March 2007 Brigitte was found guilty and received a nine-year prison sentence.[55]

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.[56][57] In December 2007 a control order was issued against David Hicks to ensure that he was monitored upon his release.[58]

Counterterrorism efforts[edit]

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.[59] 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.[59]


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.[60] 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.[60]

February 2015 Sydney raid[edit]

On 10 February 2015 two men were arrested in Fairfield, New South Wales, and charged with "Acts done in preparation, for, or planning terrorists acts".[61][62] On the morning of 10 February police were informed the two were planning a terrorist attack. They were quickly placed under surveillance and tracked. When they purchased a hunting knife from a store about 3:00 pm, NSW Joint Counter Terrorism Team (JCTT) forces decided to intervene and soon after 4:00 pm the men were arrested.[63]

The men were a 24-year-old student from Iraq, and a 25-year old nurse who moved from Kuwait in 2012. The two were unknown to police until the tip-off.[63] The men's residence, a vehicle and places of work were searched.[61] They were found with a machete, a hunting knife, a homemade Islamic State flag and "a video which depicted a man talking about carrying out an attack", according to NSW Police Deputy Commissioner (Specialist Operations) Catherine Burn.[62] One of the men arrested appeared in the video.[62]

Burn also said: "We will allege that both of these men were preparing to do this act yesterday" and "We believe that the men were potentially going to harm somebody, maybe even kill somebody ...".[62]

The JCTT investigation has been given the code name Operation Castrum.[61]

Anti-terrorism Legislation[edit]

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.[64]

Terrorist organisations[edit]

In December 2014 there were 20 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.[65]

Terrorist groups in Australia[edit]

A number of terror organisations and terror cells have operated in Australia, their activities have varied from fundraising and providing material support for terror activities overseas, to plotting and executing domestic terrorism.

"Ahmed Y" group[edit]

An Algerian man, known as "Ahmed Y," arrived in Australia in the late 1980s. Ahmed established a small militant group in Australia in 2001 and supported the idea of establishing an Islamic State in Australia and the use of violence against Australians.[66]:14

Benbrika group (Melbourne)[edit]

A group led by Algerian cleric Abdul Nacer Benbrika in Melbourne was active until Australian police arrested its members in 2005.[67]

Cheikho group (Sydney)[edit]

A group led by Khaled Cheikho was active in Sydney until the Australian police arrested its members in 2005 under Operation Pendennis.[68]


The Lashkar-e-Taiba, a proscribed terrorist organisation operating in India and Pakistan, set up a terror cell in Australia.[69][70] French convert to Islam, Willie Brigitte, accused of planning an attack in Australia, was trained by Lashkar-e-taiba.[71]

Mantiqi 4 (Jemaah Islamiah)[edit]

A short-lived terror cell, known as Mantiqi 4, existed in Australia for several years. The group was sponsored by Jemaah Islamiah (JI), a terrorist group known for their attacks in Indonesia, and was established by Abdul Rahim Ayub, a member of Jemaah Islamiah.[72][73]:111 Ayub resided in Perth during the late 1990s all while being an active JI member, travelling and attending the group's leadership conferences in Indonesia.[74] In contrast to the Jemaah Islamiah's other cells in Southeast Asia, the Mantiqi 4 cell was less of a focus for the organisation.[75]:38

The activities of the Australian branch of JI included fundraising among the local Indonesian community in Australia. Jemaah Islamiah leadership also expressed intent on identifying targets in Australia to be attacked by Al Qaeda.[75]:128


The outlawed terrorist organisation, Al-Shabaab was believed to have been behind the Holsworthy Barracks terror plot.[76][77][78][79]

Syrian syndicate[edit]

A group referred to as the "Syrian syndicate" has been investigated for sending Australian Muslims to fight in the Syrian Civil War. Australian Counterterrorism Police have investigated Wassim Fayad in connection to an attempt to ram an ATM during the 2011 Auburn riots. It is suspected that the funds were to be used in connection to local efforts of involvement in the Syrian conflict.[80]

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.[81]

In 2015 it was reported that more than 20 Australians who have fought with ISIL have returned and are being monitored by security agencies. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has said, "there is a risk they will come back as battle-hardened experienced terrorists . . . and try to carry out terrorist attacks".[82]

ISIL-related incidents[edit]

A number of incidents relating to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorist group have involved Australians and garnered the attention of the Australian public. ISIL is a militant Sunni group which has been proscribed by Australian authorities as a terrorist organisation.[83]


In 2014, two Australian Islamic extremists made a promotional video encouraging Australians to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS),[84] According to the Australian government, up to 150 Australians "have been or are currently overseas fighting with extremists in Iraq and Syria."[85] Some of their activities are thought to be war crimes.[86]

ISIL recruited Australian nationals for terror attacks in the Middle East including suicide bombings as late as March 2015.[87][88][89]

Social media beheadings[edit]

One jihadist, Khaled Sharrouf, posted a picture of himself, and another of his son, holding a decapitated head.[90] There was public outrage in Australia over the incident.[91]

Threat of domestic terror[edit]

The Attorney-General Senator George Brandis has expressed concern that those fighting jihad, then returning from the Middle East, represent, "the most significant risk to Australia’s security that we have faced in many years."[92] The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) is concerned that Australians fighting jihad may return home to plan terror attacks.[93][94] In October 2014, ISIL published an online video in which a teenage Australian Jihadi, Abdullah Elmir, threatened the United States and Australia, naming US president Barack Obama and Australian prime minister Tony Abbott as targets.[95][96]

See also[edit]


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