Australian Senate rushes anti-terror changes after attack warning
11.02.2005, 10:57 PM
CANBERRA (AFX) - The Australian Senate has held a special sitting to rush through amendments to anti-terrorism laws, a day after Prime Minister John Howard said he had received credible reports of a possible attack.
Howard said it was urgent the amendments, which make it easier for police to prosecute terrorist suspects, be passed because of the threat of an attack, which experts believe targeted the southern city of Melbourne.
The changes allow police to immediately act against terrorist suspects involved in the early stages of planning attacks, instead of forcing them to wait until they have specific details of an imminent attack.
Howard has refused to reveal details of the alleged plot that prompted his warning, saying only 'the concerns we have are not totally related to matters distant to Australia,' Agence France-Presse reported.
The lack of detail has led critics of the conservative government to accuse Howard of issuing the warning to help push through a raft of new anti-terrorism laws that have been labelled by critics as a threat to civil liberties.
Howard dismissed the suggestion, saying he needed to immediately provide police and intelligence services with the powers to respond to the latest threat.
But Howard said he could not disclose the plot to the Australian public without rendering useless the intelligence it was based upon.
'You're damned if you do and damned if you don't,' he told commercial radio. 'It's the eternal dilemma of somebody in my position.'
Clive Williams, a former Australian intelligence official who now lectures on terrorism at the Australian National University, said his sources told him the plot involved an attack on Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city.
Williams said he understood it involved three suspects in Sydney and Melbourne, one of whom had links to Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which the Australian government officially declared a terrorist organisation in November 2003.
He said the suspects were believed to have filmed potential targets in Melbourne and their actions had led to three raids in Sydney in June this year.
'At this stage, as I understand it, the activity is largely in the very early planning stages. It's two persons in Sydney talking to others in Melbourne about potential targets,' Williams told Channel Nine.
'One of the persons apparently was identified by an American informant as having attended a LET, a Lashkar-e-Taiba, camp in Pakistan, and they've been talking to others in Melbourne apparently about what sort of targets they could attack.
'So it's sort of very early stages and that's why the government wants to change the law in the way it does.'
Williams said the government and intelligence were erring on the side of caution by publicly acting on the threat.
'It's now compromised the operation and means that it will probably be very difficult to get a conviction,' he said.
'The alternative of course was to allow it to go through to the point where there was specificity as to time and place, but then there's the danger of it getting closer to fruition, so maybe the government didn't want to take that chance.'