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Australian Raids Criticized as a Publicity Stunt - 2002-10-31

The head of Australia's intelligence service says the al-Qaida terror network was involved in the deadly bombing of a Bali nightspot. The statement comes as Australian civil libertarians say police raids on suspected members of a group linked to al-Qaida were a publicity stunt. The director general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, Dennis Richardson, says there is no doubt al-Qaida was involved in the bomb blasts in Bali. He predicts there will be more attacks, despite increased counter-terrorism efforts by various countries. Mr. Richardson was speaking Thursday at a conference studying homeland security in the Australian capital Canberra.

Australian government officials have said Jemaah Islamiyah, a Southeast Asian group linked to al-Qaida, is behind the bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali. At least 180 people died in the attack on a tourist nightspot, about 90 of them Australians.

The government insists agents from the Australian Security Intelligence Organization would not have carried out the raids in Perth and Sydney without good cause.

Since Sunday, when Australia banned Jemaah Islamiyah, officers in combat gear have raided at least four homes of Muslim families originally from Indonesia. No arrests were made in relation to the investigation, although documents and computers were seized.

The Australian Civil Liberties Council dismisses the raids as a cheap publicity stunt. It says the justification for the dawn raids against families with children appeared weak at best and that the heavy-handed tactics were unnecessary.

Stephen Hopper is the lawyer representing Jaya Basri, whose home in Sydney was stormed on Sunday. He calls the raids unnecessary. "The only warning was the knock at the door and Jaya looked through the peephole and saw about three armed men with their guns pointed at the door and one had a sledgehammer in his hand. I believe it's a fairly heavy-handed approach," he says. "Both Jaya and other members of the Islamic Indonesian community have approached me and they'd be quite willing to cooperate with ASIO or the Federal police in matters that may concern them."

Those targeted in the raids have denied any connection to Jemaah Islamiyah, but some have admitted attending lectures given by the group's alleged spiritual leader Abu Bakar Bashir in Australia in 1997.