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Australia Proposes Tougher Counter-Terror Laws - 2003-11-04

Australia is proposing tougher counter-terrorism laws after it deported a suspected French Al-Qaida member last month. The new measures will allow authorities to hold suspects longer without charges and will speed up the classification of terrorist groups.

Australia says it wants more power to defend itself against suspected terrorists. The country's top law officer, attorney-general Philip Ruddock, says the new laws are needed to allow his government to "act quickly, effectively and decisively," in protecting Australians.

The laws under consideration will let authorities hold individual suspects longer without charges and more easily classify groups as terrorists.

Australia deported a Frenchman last month who intelligence sources say was involved with the terrorist group al-Qaida. Both French and Australian security agencies say the Frenchman, Willie Virgile Brigitte, was planning an attack in Australia. The government says Mr. Brigitte's presence of showed up the weaknesses of present counter-terrorism laws.

The new powers sought by the government will allow it to arrest individual suspects more easily and detain them for longer than seven days. The laws will also make it easier for the government to freeze the assets of groups named as terrorist organizations and file charges against its members.

Two suspected terrorist groups are in Australia's sights - the Pakistan-based Laskar-e-Taiba and the Palestinian militant faction Hamas. Officials suspect that Mr. Brigitte trained with Laskar-e-Taiba.

Since the terrorist bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali last year, Australia has been on its highest state of alert. Eighty-eight Australians were among the 202 victims, and Canberra acknowledges that the country's profile as a potential terrorist target has risen