SYDNEY - Australia's terrorism alert level has been raised from medium to high, meaning the risk of an attack is considered to be likely. Intelligence agencies have said the number of Australians returning from fighting with Islamic State and other radical groups poses a growing risk at home.
This is the first time that Australia’s threat level has been elevated above medium since the scale was introduced more than a decade ago. Prime Minister Tony Abbott said while there is no intelligence of any specific plots, there are individuals capable of carrying out an attack in Australia.
“I want to stress that this does not mean that a terror attack is imminent. We have no specific intelligence of particular plots. What we do have is intelligence that there are people with the intent and capability to mount attacks here in Australia,” said Abbott.
As part of the “high” alert level, authorities are planning to have more police officers at sporting events, government buildings and airports. Government officials have said at least 20 people have returned to Australia after fighting with radical groups in the Middle East.
The country’s top threat level, “extreme,” indicates that an attack is imminent or has occurred.
David Irvine, the outgoing head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, said the threat could manifest itself in "many ways," including in a bombing similar to the one in a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia in 2002. That killed more than 200 people, including 88 Australians.
Irvine said radicalized Australians returning from Iraq and Syria pose a growing risk.
“We have seen an accumulation of indicators which give the security authorities and law enforcement increasing cause for concern,” said Irvine.
Australia has offered to join U.S. airstrikes on Islamist groups in Iraq and Syria.
Prime Minister Abbott will visit New York later this month to take part in a U.N. Security Council meeting chaired by President Barack Obama to address the threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters.
Abbott said it is “important for Australia and for the world” that the Islamic State group is defeated.