Major terror attack in Australia 'inevitable'

Top counter-terrorism officer also warns that 'anything can happen at any time'

SYDNEY • A major attack in Australia is "inevitable", a top counter- terrorism police officer warned yesterday, adding that "anything can happen at any time".

The Australian authorities say they have prevented 13 terror attacks on home soil in the past few years, including an alleged plot in July to bring down a plane using poisonous gas or a crude bomb disguised as a meat mincer.

The government released a national strategy last month to help venue operators prevent vehicle terror attacks carried out in crowded public places following such deadly assaults in Europe.

"I don't like to say it but it will happen. It's inevitable," New South Wales Assistant Commissioner Mark Murdoch, the state's counter- terrorism boss, told Sydney's Daily Telegraph.

"Despite everything that is being done and the good work that law enforcement and intelligence is doing, without wanting to create unnecessary fear within the community, it's going to happen."

Canberra has become increasingly worried about home-grown extremism, and raised the national terror alert level in September 2014.

It stands at "probable", the third in a five-level scale. That means "credible intelligence, assessed by our security agencies, indicates individuals or groups continue to possess the intent and capability to conduct a terrorist attack in Australia".

Mr Murdoch said a key risk was attackers not already on the authorities' radar, such as two Sydney men charged with the alleged plan to bring down an international flight.

Brothers Khaled Khayat, 49, and Mahmoud Khayat, 32, are in custody over their alleged plan to smuggle a bomb on board to blow up an Etihad flight out of Sydney in July, The Daily Telegraph reported.

The bomb was hidden in a kitchen meat mincer.

"(Domestic spy agency) ASIO tells us that the profile (of a terrorist) is a lone wolf, small groups, rudimentary weapons easily accessible like knives, firearms and cars," Mr Murdoch added.

"So that's their threat profile and then all of a sudden we get something like a meat grinder.

"What that tells us is that... we need to maintain an open mind because in this business anything can happen at any time."

In the heart of Sydney, the state's capital, concrete blocks have been put in place to act as barriers against vehicle attacks.

State Premier Gladys Berejiklian told the newspaper her government was in constant contact with police and all security agencies.

"We know what the threat levels are on a daily basis. That's why as a government we are vigilant every day to make sure we are doing everything we can to keep the community as safe as possible."

Several terror attacks have taken place in Sydney in recent years, including a cafe siege in 2014 that saw two hostages killed.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2017, with the headline 'Major terror attack in Australia 'inevitable''. Print Edition | Subscribe