World

Australia counters homegrown terrorism threat with new laws

Australia will strengthen immigration laws and crack down on groups that incite hatred under counter-terrorism measures introduced Monday in a bid to combat the threat from homegrown terrorists.

Anti-extremism strategy follows gov't review of Sydney attack that left 2 dead in December

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his wife Margie joined thousands of Sydneysiders to lay flowers at a memorial near the Lindt chocolate cafe in Martin Place following a dramatic siege that cost two hostages their lives. (Dan Himbrechts/EPA)

Australia will strengthen immigration laws and crack down on groups that incite hatred under a raft of counter-terrorism measures introduced Monday in a bid to combat the threat from homegrown terrorists.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced the nation's new anti-extremism strategy following the release of a government review into December's deadly siege at a cafe in Sydney's busy Martin Place plaza.

Man Monis, an Iranian-born, self-styled cleric with a long criminal history, took 18 people hostage inside the cafe, forced them to hold up a flag bearing the Islamic declaration of faith and demanded he be delivered a flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group. Monis and two hostages were killed.

The government review found no major faults with multiple agencies that failed to detect Monis was a threat, despite the fact that he was out on bail on sexual assault and accessory to murder charges. However, Abbott acknowledged the system itself had failed, saying Monis should never have been allowed into Australia, should not have been out on bail and should not have been able to get a gun.

"It's clear that in too many instances, the threshold for action was set too high, and that the only beneficiary of that was the Martin Place murderer himself," Abbott said. "We cannot allow bad people to use our good nature against us."

The measures announced Monday would:

  • Revoke or suspend Australian citizenship for dual nationals who fight alongside terror groups overseas.
  • Axe welfare payments and consular services to those involved in terrorism.
  • Clamp down on "hate preachers" or groups that incite religious or racial hatred.

Australia's government raised the country's terror warning level in September in response to the domestic threat posed by supporters of ISIS. In September, the group's spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani issued a message urging attacks abroad, specifically mentioning Australia.

Threat has escalated: PM

Abbott warned that the terrorism threat in Australia has escalated, noting that one-third of all terrorism-related arrests since 2001 have occurred in the last six months. At least 110 Australians have gone to Iraq and Syria to fight alongside extremists, and the nation's security agency is juggling more than 400 high-priority counter-terrorism investigations — more than double the number a year ago, Abbott said.

Earlier this month, two men were charged with planning to launch an imminent, ISIS-inspired terrorist attack in Australia after Abbott said they appeared on a video threatening to stab the kidneys and necks of their victims. And in September, a man arrested during a series of counter-terrorism raids was charged with conspiring with an ISIS leader in Syria to behead a random person in Sydney.

"The terrorist threat is rising, at home and abroad, and is becoming harder to combat," Abbott said. "Today's terrorism requires little more than a camera phone, a knife and a victim."

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