Afghanistan, Iraq made Australia Islamist target: experts
Australia's military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan has made it a prime target for Islamic extremists, including home-grown militants intent on waging domestic jihad, experts said today.world Updated: Aug 05, 2009 14:08 IST
Australia's military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan has made it a prime target for Islamic extremists, including home-grown militants intent on waging domestic jihad, experts said Wednesday.
While Australia has never been hit by Muslim radicals on its own soil, the threat was underscored on Tuesday when police swooped on a Melbourne group that allegedly planned a suicide attack on an army barracks.
Australian National University security expert Clive Williams said an element of the country's Muslim community appeared to have been radicalised by Canberra's foreign policy.
"It's not really surprising that this kind of situation has occurred," Williams said.
"The people who engage in these sorts of activities are usually opposed almost invariably to our foreign policies, particularly things like our involvement in Afghanistan, (which) means that that's going to be an ongoing problem."
Australia has about 1,550 troops in Afghanistan and last week formally ended its involvement in Iraq, a campaign that foreign policy analyst Sam Roggenveen said had helped put the country on the radar of Islamic radicals.
"The fact that we're so close to the US, with both sides of politics endorsing the US war on terror does increase our profile," said Roggenveen, from foreign policy think-tank the Lowy Insitute.
Middle East expert Sarah Phillips from Sydney University's Centre for International Security Studies, said she had noticed attitudes to Australia had changed markedly over the past few years.
"I think in the region there has been a perceptible shift in the way the Australian government, if not the Australian people, has been perceived," she said.
In Indonesia, almost 100 Australians have died in militant attacks against Western targets in recent years, including bombings on the resort island of Bali in 2002 and 2005.
The country's embassy in Jakarta was hit by a car bomb in 2004, killing nine, and three Australians died in last month's blasts at luxury hotels in the Indonesian capital that killed seven.
Canberra's official travel advisories warn citizens about the possibility of attacks while travelling overseas but Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said the government was also aware of the domestic risks.
"There is a risk of terrorist activity in Australia, which is why we are ever-vigilant," he told reporters.
"And we do make the point that when it comes to terrorist activity we need to be careful for Australians, not just overseas, but also in Australia -- the events of the last couple of days underline that."
Some 400 police staged a series of raids Tuesday and have charged five men with plotting to storm Sydney's Holsworthy barracks with automatic weapons.
Police, who accuse one of the group of links to Somalia's Al-Qaeda-inspired Shebab insurgents, have said it would have been the country's worst extremist assault.
In a separate case in July, Islamic convert Shane Kent admitted plotting to kill thousands of people in an attack on a major sports event in Melbourne.
Eight members of Kent's extremist cell have already been jailed over plans to bomb the 2005 Australian Football League Grand Final in Australia's biggest anti-terrorism trial.