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Suspected cells kept under scrutiny Print E-mail
Thursday, 04 August 2005

 

ASIO and the Australian Federal Police are closely monitoring up to 60 Islamic extremists operating in possible terrorist cells in Sydney and Melbourne.

Many of these known extremists have conducted military training with terrorist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan, AFP chief Mick Keelty said yesterday.


In his most specific comments yet about the nature of the terrorist threat in Australia, Mr Keelty confirmed claims made by former ASIO officer Michael Roach that about 60 Islamic extremists with terrorist training were living in the country.

"It's not something that's news to the intelligence agencies and the AFP," Mr Keelty told ABC radio.

"We have been aware for some time roughly the number of people who have trained overseas, and they've been the focus of the attention."

Mr Roach said security agencies should start targeting suspects partly based on their race. He said the public should not only report but also photograph people "of Middle Eastern appearance" acting suspiciously.

Muslim groups branded his suggestion racist, warning that relationships between ASIO officers and Islamic communities trying to prevent terrorism could be damaged.

"The comments undermine the developing working relationship between ASIO and the Muslim communities and makes it very hard for us to work with them when we know we are being picked on," said Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network spokesman Waleed Kadous.

"And it really reinforces the stereotypes we have worked so hard to eradicate."

Amir Butler from the Muslim Public Affairs Committee warned that such racial profiling was counter-productive, leading to more Muslims becoming disillusioned, alienated and possibly radicalised.

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said Canberra would not go down the path of racial profiling, which would leave the country "dangerously exposed" to terrorists who did not fit the stereotype.

"Competent authorities do not target people on the basis of their race," Mr Ruddock said.

"They target activity which they believe would characterise somebody as an extremist."

John Howard said he had been assured extremists with suspected terrorist links were being watched by the authorities.

ASIO and AFP are known to keep some suspected extremists under 24-hour watch, following them constantly and employing sophisticated eavesdropping devices to monitor all their communications.

However, the challenge facing Australian authorities has been highlighted by the recent London bombings, where the bombers did not come from the ranks of known extremists.

Mr Keelty said authorities were "working very hard to monitor the movements of these people both in Australia

and overseas ... there is various amounts of information known on each of them".

 

Cameron  Stewart, Trudy Harris, additional reporting Ashleigh Wilson

The Australian, 4 August 2005

 

 
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