Tue, Sep 21, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Howard unveils anti-terror plan

PRE-EMPTIVE PROGRAM The opposition slammed the Australian prime minister's overseas strikes idea as counterproductive

AFP , SYDNEY

Prime Minister John Howard unveiled a plan for "flying squads" of police to stop terrorist attacks in the region yesterday, stressing he would not hesitate to order a pre-emptive strike overseas if needed to protect Australia.

The idea was condemned as "clumsy foreign policy" by opposition leader Mark Latham, who said it would make Australia less safe, rather than more safe.

With security one of the top issues for the Oct. 9 election after this month's bombing of Australia's Jakarta embassy, Howard pledged nearly A$100 million (US$70 million) to the plan if re-elected.

"We will not wait for a terrorist threat to eventuate before we take action," he said in an official announcement.

"In close co-operation with our regional neighbors we will ensure that we take every measure possible to disrupt and destroy the terrorist networks at their source," Howard said.

The six new teams of officers from the Australian Federal Police would include two based outside Australia, he said.

Under the five-year plan, the teams would have state of the art equipment at their disposal, including mobile secure communications, portable surveillance equipment, facial identification technology and chemical trace equipment. Indonesia and the Philippines were named as "high priority" countries.

Earlier, in comments likely to worry Australia's neighbors, Howard said he would not hesitate to launch a pre-emptive strike on a terrorist base overseas if it was necessary, repeating a threat made two years ago after the Bali bombings killed 202 people including 88 Australians.

"I've said that if there were no alternative other than to do something ourselves to prevent an attack on Australia from a terrorist group, I would do it," Howard told national radio.

Asked yesterday about the chances of another terrorist attack, he said it was "a near inevitability" but that he did not think one would take place on the Australian mainland.

Latham said Howard's idea was counter-productive and said Australians would be outraged if the reverse happened and a neighboring country unilaterally planned pre-emptive strikes on Australian soil.

"Imagine if a country in our region said they were prepared to launch unilateral strikes on targets in Australia, our sovereign ter-ritory, without the cooperation and involvement of the Australian government," he said.

"Imagine the outrage in this country. As Australians we would feel absolutely appalled," he said.

Latham said the reaction among Australia's neighbors would likely be as bad as that two years ago. He unveiled his Labor Party's own A$373 million defense policy including a review, more troops in northern Australia and a host of benefits for soldiers.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said, however, the government plan would be welcomed in the region and he and Justice Minister Chris Ellison would visit Australia's neighbors to talk about it if re-elected.

Other measures would include the creation of two counter-terrorism criminal intelligence teams, which could be deployed in the region, and two counter-terrorism surveillance teams.

The federal police would also develop a unit of highly trained operational linguists to work on terrorism issues. Funding for a full-time bomb data centers in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore would be provided along with a region intelligence secretariat.

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