Hunting and killing known terrorist kingpins makes more sense than invading a country to get at them, a former top-ranking Australian diplomat said yesterday.
Duncan Campbell, a former ambassador to Rome and Vienna, said Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, the leader of Southeast Asian terror network Jemaah Islamiyah, would be a prime target for an orchestrated state-sponsored assassination.
"Was Ba'asyir in Java to strike against us first?" Campbell asked The Sydney Morning Herald.
The Java-based Islamic cleric is widely believed to have ordered the October 2002 bombing in the Indonesian island of Bali that took 202 lives, among them 88 Australians.
Ba'asyir is on trial in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, for terrorism offenses.
Campbell said it was absurd to blithely commit troops to an invasion that would cost thousands of lives but be squeamish about rubbing out the known leader of the enemy forces.
"Why should not a known organizer of terrorist cells ... be mercifully removed when there are covert and controlled means available for us to do so?"
He said Australians should debate the morality of taking one life to preserve many.
"Can you imagine how easy it ought to be in a prison such as the one Ba'asyir is in to persuade someone, for a lump of money, to doctor his rice?" he said.
"That wouldn't involve Australian hands at all, except perhaps the passing by someone to someone else of a little lump of chemicals of some sort," he said.
The government of Prime Minister John Howard has said it does not support the sort of targeted assassinations carried out by the Israeli armed forces against certain known terrorist leaders.
However, Howard has caused ructions in the region by stating his belief that it would make sense to launch a pre-emptive strike against a terrorist group that was directly threatening Australia and yet had not been tackled by the host government.