Australia’s terror threat has been lowered from probable to possible but security heads are warning the likelihood of an attack is 50/50, admitting a death from a terrorist in the next 12 months is ‘plausible’.
The news comes as Australians recently repatriated from Syria have all been deemed to be a low risk to the community despite concerns about their resettling in western Sydney.
The lower terror threat follows the defeat of the Islamic State (IS) and ineffective Al-Qaeda propaganda failing to connect with Western youth, resulting in fewer extremists in Australia.
The greatest threat to Australians remains a lone wolf attack from someone radicalised quickly and using an easily accessible weapon such as a knife or car.
The greatest threat to Australians remains a lone wolf attack from someone radicalised quickly and using an easily accessible weapon such as a knife or car. Pictured is a stock image of a man holding a knife
ASIO director-general Mike Burgess says while the threat level has been lowered, it doesn’t mean it’s been eradicated.
‘This does not mean the threat is extinguished,’ he said.
‘It remains plausible that someone will die at the hands of a terrorist in Australia within the next 12 months.’
There has been an increase in radical nationalism and right-wing extremist ideology in the past couple of years.
‘Individuals are still fantasising about killing other Australians, still spouting their hateful ideologies in chat rooms, still honing their capabilities by researching bomb-making and training with weapons,’ Mr Burgess said.
There have been 11 terrorist attacks and a further 21 plots have been disrupted since 2014. Half of the foiled plots were in the first two years when IS was more prominent.
There have also been 153 terrorism-related charges stemming from 79 counter-terrorism operations since 2014.
Mr Burgess warned it was almost guaranteed that the threat level will increase again.
ASIO has warned that people are being radicalised online at an extreme pace, sometimes in as short as weeks or months. Pictured is a man wearing a hoodie looking at a laptop computer
But this would not necessarily be off the back of a terrorist attack with the overall security assessment taking into account lone wolves.
People are being radicalised online at an extreme pace, sometimes in as short as weeks or months.
But there are fewer groups planning months or years-long sophisticated terrorist attacks with the aim of maximum destruction.
More than 50 people convicted of terrorist offences are also due for release in the future, but only a small number will be freed by 2025.
There have also been increases in Covid-19 grievances and hateful rhetoric online, but this was unlikely to lead to violent actions.
‘We must distinguish between ugly actions, big talk and actual terrorism,’ Mr Burgess said.
‘While some individuals used violent rhetoric and some protests involved violence, we did not identify acts of terrorism,’ he said of Covid-19 conspiracy theorists.
Another senior security official described it as ‘awful but lawful’.
The assessment also considered the risks posed by the four adults and 13 children repatriated from a Syrian refugee camp.
Some of the women who were married to Islamic State fighters and their children were spotted together at a McDonald’s in southwest Sydney last month (pictured)
Mr Burgess said all had been assessed to be low risk.
The group has been the subject of controversy in western Sydney with locals criticising the government for failing to consult with them over possible security risks.
‘For some it may require my organisation to keep an eye on them, but that’s OK because I’ll back my organisation any day,’ Mr Bugess said.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he had ‘complete confidence’ in the security agencies.
‘I won’t second guess them,’ he said.
ASIO has conducted further security assessments on Australians still located in the Syrian refugee camp.
No decision has been made about further repatriations.
Four women, all of whom married terrorists, and their 13 children touched down in Sydney on Saturday after being removed from the al-Roj camp in Syria (pictured, a camp in Syria)
The opposition says the repatriation has brought an undue risk to the community with fears of radicalisation.
Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said the planned repatriation was weighed against the risks of leaving them in the camp, with the government powerless to ban citizens from entering Australia if they managed to return in the future.
‘Then we lose the ability to control the return,’ she said.
‘If we don’t do anything about this now, then the children … are growing up in an environment that is unsafe, where they’re subject to violent, radical ideology every day that tells them to hate their own country.’
The government is still committed to bringing in laws to strip dual citizens of their Australian citizenship if they join a terrorist organisation, but it will wait for two High Court cases to wrap up before drafting legislation.
Ms O’Neil said she wanted to be certain any laws could withstand a High Court challenge after previous legislation from the coalition government had been ruled unconstitutional.
‘We need to wait till the High Court has given us a better indication of what the constitutional limits are, and then we will legislate again for that,’ she said.